Legacy

by Jane Davitt





The banner uses screencaps from Starfox's page; thank you for sharing.

Many thanks to T Verano and Wesleysgirl for their support and beta reading and for Carodee for her generous donation to Moonridge and the prompt that inspired this story.

Warnings: spanking, daddy kink, violence, dub-con.




"Fresh meat," King said and stabbed his fork into a piece of potato that, if it was anything like the ones on Blair's tray, was mushy around the edges and hard at the center. He gave a dry chuckle and corrected himself. "Fresh fish."

King wasn't making a comment on the food; he'd spent too long in prison not to be used to it, and he liked it enough to finish what Blair left most days. He'd claimed it with a knowing leer the first few times, when he was still testing Blair's commitment. Now, he just took it without comment, consuming Blair's leftovers with the air of a man reclaiming what was rightfully his -- because if he owned Blair's ass, and mouth, and loyalty, he sure as hell owned his burger and fries as well.

No, King meant the man three tables over, his back prudently against a wall, empty chairs around him, who was eating over-salted Irish stew with an expressionless face. Blair had noticed him as soon as he'd walked into the canteen, King's arm heavy around his shoulders in a blatant, unneeded signal of ownership.

Definitely unneeded. Everyone from the warden down knew who Blair belonged to, and if Blair himself ever forgot, well, he had a homemade tattoo of a crown on his ass to remind him, the skin there scarred, raised and rough against his fingers when he stroked it, his face blank, his eyes closed, his other hand cupped protectively around a dick that had learned to rise to the occasion on demand.

Blair didn't ask it to when it was just for him anymore; what was the point? Sex had long since become an act of obedience and placation; currency in a place where money meant nothing, buying him safety at the cost of -- well, what? Self-respect? Innocence? Like he'd ever had the latter, and the former was an expensive luxury inside prison. At least he'd chosen whose fuck-toy he was, even if King didn't know he'd been manipulated that way.

Blair wasn't King's type in appearance or personality; too dark, too intelligent; King went in for pretty, baby-faced blonds, with air between their ears. He'd had to work hard to get King first interested and then satisfied. That first time -- God, the memory of him pleading for a second chance to make King come harder than he ever had before still had the power to make Blair's skin heat with shame. He'd nailed it, though, armed with the knowledge of what hadn't worked so well the first time and the observations he'd made weeks earlier, watching King fuck the lucky son of a bitch whose parole had freed up a place for Blair to slide into. King liked an audience sometimes, and although someone as low in the pecking order as Blair had to be careful about watching too openly, he'd been able to pick up enough to form an idea of what King wanted.

Only to discover that what a man did out in public wasn't necessarily what he did in private. King's lack of imagination was a barrier to really scratching his itch to dominate and humiliate, but that wasn't a problem that Blair had. Within limits, he didn't mind giving King a guided tour of the wild side, steering him carefully away from acts Blair didn't think that he could perform without throwing up as an encore. He could've written a paper on the root causes of King's twisted, fucked-up libido, but that was never going to happen now. He wasn't exactly capable of being objective about Daddy dearest, after all.

"So what do you think of him?" King asked, breaking into Blair's reverie, his pale gray eyes narrowing.

Blair didn't even turn his head to look at tall, dark, and doomed. "He's no one," he replied with a shrug and gave King his best, worshipful smile, keeping it small enough that the healing cut on his lip didn't sting. He didn't really mind if it did, but it would piss King off if it started to bleed, because he hadn't been the one to put it there.

The man who had was still in the infirmary, his face a bruised mess, one hand crushed -- the one he'd hit Blair with -- and three ribs broken. Blair watched King's hands draw Blair's food tray over to his side of the table and shivered, a frisson of lust and shame (they went together so well, those emotions, but it had taken King to teach him that) racing through him. Blair had forced Carver to hit him, pushed the man until he'd had no other option -- and he'd seen the sick fear well up in Carver's eyes as he realized, too late, whose bitch he'd just put in his place.

King had fussed over Blair, icing his swollen lip, those big, callused hands oddly gentle for once. Blair hadn't squeezed out a tear -- he saved those for King's birthday or when the situation demanded it -- but he'd let his voice crack as he gave an account of the incident and let his hand linger on King's arm a moment or two longer than needed when King hauled him to his feet, making sure King noticed the way it trembled.

King had seen the signs of fear and interpreted them just as Blair had wanted him to, seeing Carver as a rival, a pretender to the throne. Carver had made Blair scared and hurt him; the ultimate sins, as they were King's prerogatives.

Carver had been blameless, of course; the victim, not the aggressor. Blair had chosen him as a fall guy because, when it came down to it, the man was pushing subtly for some of the power King wielded, and that affected Blair. He was linked to King too solidly to be safe if the big man fell from grace, and if he felt under no obligation to protect the man's interests out of loyalty -- given the chance, he'd have watched King choke to death without offering him as much as a glass of water -- he was most definitely invested in keeping King on top of the power pyramid.

With himself on his knees beside him, but that was unavoidable.

And Carver was unpleasant. Blair recalled a time when he'd been reading, lost in the story, escaping briefly from reality. The book had been snatched from his hands, Carver's thin lips set in a contemptuous sneer as he leafed through it, and then tossed it into a puddle, the muddy water soaking the pages, swelling the spine. Blair hadn't bothered to tell King about that incident; King hated him reading and permitted it only because Blair had hidden how much it meant to him. But he'd remembered it.

The main reason he'd set Carver up, though, was simply to reawaken King's possessive side. Blair had been bending over for King for six months; the man was inclined to get bored easily and look for --

Fresh meat? King's words about the new inmate echoed in Blair's head. Fuck, no. Blair took a sip of the tepid water in front of him and controlled his panic. Since beating up Carver, King had been attentive, assiduous -- affectionate even, in his own fucked-up way -- it had worked, he knew that it had. On the way into lunch, King had whispered some plans for the night into Blair's ear that, even as his skin crawled, he'd rejoiced in, feeling a smug security wrap around him. The new guy was too built, projected too much confidence for him to be on King's radar for sex.

Blair breathed in deeply and let it out slowly, convincing himself that he was safe. He gave King a beguiling look, flirting with him silently, and felt his body flush warmly with a practiced, programmed arousal that he knew King would pick up on.

He got an indulgent look back, King's attention focused fully on him now. "You still hungry?" King said, not troubling to keep his voice down. They had the table to themselves; people came over to speak to King once he'd finished eating, but only Blair was allowed to eat with him. Sometimes, King fed him, holding out morsels of food for Blair to nip from his fingers, wiping his hands clean in Blair's hair. They were the bad days, when what drove King was too close to the surface to save for when they were alone. The guards muttered to themselves on those days, hands restless on their nightsticks, their faces watchful, their gazes flickering over Blair, contempt, revulsion, and sometimes an unbearable pity, showing clearly.

It had taken Blair a while to realize that no one would help him, then or at any other time. That King could fuck him to death in their shared cell and no one would come if he screamed. And he did sometimes. Couldn't help it.

That was a dissertation in itself, if he was still a man who cared about such things; the way the guards, for all their power, allowed shit like King to rise to the top. King did their job for them; he kept the prisoners subdued under a control they accepted because King was one of them. And King was connected. His brother was a wealthy businessman, outwardly squeaky-clean, but with ties to most of the drug trafficking in Cascade, and if Christopher King hadn't been able to keep his younger brother out of prison, that was because even drug lords and tycoons had their limits. When Carl gunned down an ex-girlfriend in broad daylight the day before her wedding, in front of a school bus full of children waiting for a light to change, that went well beyond those limits.

"You got an empty space wants filling, baby?" King continued. The words should have been laughable; cheesy porn flick dialogue coming from a mountain of a man like King should have been ridiculous.

Blair didn't feel like laughing. He wet his lips, glad of the water he'd just swallowed, and let his gaze drop. "Please," he whispered, the desperation in his voice a mixture of real and faked. He clenched his hand into a fist where it lay, unseen, in his lap. This was the worst moment. Get this part over, and nothing that followed mattered, because he turned numb and cold when he said it, dead inside. "Please, Daddy."

King nodded and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Thought so." He chuckled and reached across to pat Blair's cheek fondly, then pinched it hard enough to make Blair's eyes water as he rode out the stab of pain. "Gonna have to wait, baby. Can you do that? Stay hard and hungry for me until it's time to tuck you in? 'Cause I've got business to take care of." The syrupy, cajoling tone dropped from his voice and left it bone-dry and cold. "Got me some people to introduce to their new home."

Blair nodded, his shoulders slumping in what King would read as resignation and what was really relief. Nooners kept King sweet, but they usually involved an audience and Blair didn't like being on display, even if it did mean that King usually settled for a blow job from Blair, his climax delayed until Blair's cheek muscles were aching and his tongue swollen, spit drooling out of his mouth, all dignity lost. Relief, too, because he knew now why King was interested in the new guy; he wanted to sound him out; maybe recruit him; maybe just let him know who was in charge. King didn't usually handle that personally, but he was shrewd enough to pick up on the man's assurance, and the muscles the loose prison clothing of denim jeans and jacket and a thin black T-shirt couldn't hide.

Blair wasn't off the hook yet, though. King crooked his fingers in a signal he'd taught Blair to recognize and thought that he'd taught Blair to obey. Blair very carefully uncurled his fingers and straightened them, feeling the blood push back into them and make them throb. His nails were too short to have dug into his palm; King liked to trim them, Blair on his lap, a towel across Blair's bare legs to catch the parings.

He stood and positioned himself in front of King, keeping his gaze fixed on King's face, because that was preferable to looking at anyone else. At times like this, his surroundings became a sea of faces, all staring at him. No safe places to stare at, no blank walls. Just faces.

An expectant hush fell and then was swallowed in a clatter of cutlery, a hum of voices, as King glanced around, a forbidding expression on his face.

King crooked his finger and Blair shuffled forward until his knees were touching King's. He put his hands behind his back, cuffed his wrists with his hands, and kept the tension he felt from showing on his face. King had to think he wanted this. King got off on believing that Blair didn't, was aroused by any hint that Blair loathed what he was made to do -- and at the same time loved the idea that Blair was hot for him. Balancing King's contradictions was like juggling knives, and with much the same result if Blair misjudged a catch. Eager, willing compliance in public was usually safe, though; one reason King had a man like Blair in his entourage was to demonstrate his utter disregard for opinion or rules -- and his ability to compel someone to serve him without limits. Blair was a walking commercial for King's top-dog position.

He felt his dick harden as King rubbed his hand over Blair's groin, tracing the shape of Blair's erection and palming it roughly.

"That's how I want it to stay," King told him. "Hard for me. I don't want you thinking about anything but what a good little boy you're gonna be for me later on, you got that?"

Almost over. Blair nodded, too exposed now that he was standing to repeat the word that had gotten King flushed with excitement, his pale eyes glittering. He'd get punished later for saying it where there was a chance of it being overheard, assuming King remembered the slip -- but King probably would. He loved a reason to punish Blair, even though he didn't ever need one. And if King groped him at any point during the rest of the day and found soft flesh, not hard, Blair wouldn't get to come.

Which, by then, would be the least of his worries.

"Slut," King said and gave the solid flesh beneath his hand a brutal squeeze. "Aren't you?"

Blair weighed a few responses and let his gaze stray away from King's face for a moment. Over King's shoulder, he'd caught a flicker of movement and it drew his eye. No one else was leaving; they didn't want to risk attracting King's attention and distracting him while he was playing, but the new guy, clueless and deaf, blind, and dumb to what was going on, had stood and picked up his empty tray, his expression as studiously indifferent as ever.

With a dizzying wave of emotion, Blair found himself praying that the man would sit back down. He'd had enough of being touched by hands that were bruised and bloody from inflicting pain on other men; it was bad enough that they hurt him. The man glanced at him, and Blair saw him clearly for the first time. Cold eyes in a handsome face, dark hair cropped military-short, exposing a strong jaw. Blair couldn't see the color of the eyes scanning him in a slow sweep, but he wanted to get close enough to find out.

Because then he could hiss a warning to the stupid fucker.

"You bring it out in me," he replied to King, looking at him again, after hesitating just too long.

King's forehead furrowed, displeasure darkening his eyes at the flippant response, his fingers -- God, that hurt -- digging in.

"Please --" Blair blurted out, and heard the twist of panic wrapped around the words like a thin, red thread. "King, you're -- you're hurting me."

"Sluts like being hurt," King drawled, his fingers busy, cruel. "Don't they?"

With his balls compressed and crushed, agony radiating through him, Blair could only nod. "Ah-ah," King said reprovingly. "Use your words, baby."

"Y-yes, yes, they do." The stammer was unintentional; King's nails had sunk in as Blair began to answer, the worn denim of Blair's pants no protection.

"Yes, they do," King agreed, the pressure of his grip unrelenting. "And what are you?"

Blair timed his reluctant pause perfectly, back in the groove. "A slut."

"Yes, you are." King released him abruptly and Blair swayed and staggered, the relief from pain almost as hard to bear as the torment. "You can come with me this afternoon."

"Uh --" Blair swallowed and tried to remember what job King was supposed to be doing. Not that he ever did any of them personally, but there were appearances to keep up. "I'm scheduled to work in the garden." He liked the garden. Liked the feel of clean dirt on his hands, liked the smell of the plants. Would have liked to have eaten the literal fruits of his labor, but the produce was always sold. The vegetables the prisoners ate were all frozen, bought in bulk. Blair had worked in the kitchen and never seen anything remotely like the vegetables he'd tended in the storage rooms there, though in theory, the garden produce was meant for the prisoners.

King pursed his lips and pretended to consider that, as if it was an actual problem instead of a minor matter he could make disappear with a word to a guard. "You want to get nice and dirty, you can do it in the showers with me," he said finally and smiled, obviously pleased by his own wit. "Now clean the table, slut."

Blair returned the smile, and added a nervous, sycophantic chuckle for good measure. Behind King, the new guy rolled his eyes as if he'd heard the exchange, which wasn't possible, given how far away he was. Blair picked up his tray and King's and went to put them on the stack at the end of the long counter running along the back wall, never allowing his expression to alter. King had spies everywhere and most of them were just looking for some transgression to report to King. Blair didn't get to roll his eyes or let his contempt show, not even in the darkness, his face plastered against King's sweaty chest as the man snored through another night, his fingers tangled in Blair's hair.

Instead of demonstrating his feelings, Blair simply retreated to the space he'd carved out in his head; an act of destruction, not creation. No gently aromatic candles, silver smoke spiraling upward here; no woven silk mat to sit cross-legged on as he meditated. He'd done his best to find inner peace as he stared, unseeing, at a book, or worked at a tedious task, and the result had been as pitiful as might have been expected. The place he'd gouged out wasn't a refuge, just an alternative. Still, it was empty of King. Empty of everything. He was scared of that place; he emerged from it feeling a little less like himself every single fucking time, but if he didn't use it, he'd commit suicide by telling King what he thought of him.

Blair didn't want to die. That fact surprised him sometimes, but it was still the truth.

He placed the trays on top of other trays, identical like so much else in this place, and dropped the cutlery into a large plastic bin beside them before turning to catch up with King.

He collided with the edge of a tray and grunted in surprise. New guy. Figured.

"Sorry." Deep voice, calm and cool, unflustered. Lucky for him that he'd bumped into Blair; some men, with something to prove, or a reputation to protect, would've taken an accidental bump as a deliberate insult and started a fight. Blair had nothing to fight for but his life and he waged that battle on his knees and his back, not with fists or a knife.

Blair looked up into blue eyes and didn't trouble to hide his hostility, needing payback for the panic he'd felt earlier. Nothing to fight for didn't mean that he didn't get angry. "Back off," he advised, keeping his voice level.

The man smiled, a brief twitch of well-shaped lips. "You're standing where I want to go," he pointed out and jerked his thumb. "Move. Please," he added, with a grin spreading across his face.

Grinning. Because it was so fucking kind of him to be polite to a man most cons treated like dirt when King wasn't around, jostling Blair as he walked, or tripping him, murmuring filthy, if banal, words in his ear, groping him, if they thought they could get away with it because they were in a crowded hallway where the press of bodies gave them a brief anonymity.

If it wasn't me, it could be you, Blair wanted to scream at them. You fucking owe me, you jerks. I'm the one who keeps him from lashing out more than he does, I'm the one who controls him, can't you see that?

He took it from them. He didn't have to take it from someone who'd just watched him get humiliated, distaste plain in his cool blue eyes.

"Fuck off," Blair snarled, the words sweet in his mouth. How long had it been since he'd indulged himself in open anger? "Asshole."

"Ellison," the man corrected. "And you're -- no, don't tell me, let me guess, punk. Snuffles? Rover? No, wait… Trixie. Yeah, you look like a Trixie. A sweet little puppy, not a wolf like your owner."

Blair felt his skin crawl, goose bumps breaking out as if he'd been drenched in icy, tainted water as the insults struck home, driven deep by the truth behind them. Yeah, he was riding with King; he bent over and more for the man, but he didn't need reminding of it. He met Ellison's eyes without flinching. "Blair Sandburg. And you're so dead, man."

Ellison gave him a pitying look. "If you say so." He reached out and put his hand on Blair's shoulder and then applied a downward pressure unexpected and strong enough that Blair's legs buckled and he stumbled, falling to his knees. Ellison held him down there and leaned forward, his groin inches away from Blair's face. Blair could see the meshed teeth of the zipper and the weave of denim and he caught the scent of the man briefly, a clean, single, plangent note against the unvarying drone of food and bodies washed in the same soap, wearing clothes laundered in the same detergent. Blair heard the clatter of metal on metal as Ellison tossed his tray onto the pile and then he was dragged up again.

"Next time, just do as you're told, Trixie," Ellison said and released him with a final, reproving tap under Blair's chin.

Blair looked past Ellison to the doorway where King stood talking to one of the guards, his back to the room, oblivious to the incident, though that state of affairs wouldn't last for long. Too many people had seen what had happened, even if no one had been close enough to hear the conversation he'd had with Ellison. It didn't matter; Ellison had touched him; had forced him to his knees.

Ellison wasn't fresh meat; he was dead meat.

"Woof," Blair said softly, more to himself than the suddenly frowning Ellison, and then smiled and walked away, tingling with anticipation of a swift and bloody revenge, all mercy fled.

So fucking dead.

***

How could a man do that? Barter his self-respect for a tenuous, fragile safety doled out by a thick-necked killer who was going to rot in Starkville -- or die when he lost his edge and a stronger man took over.

Jim Ellison watched Sandburg walk away with a slow, sexy saunter, ass moving just enough to send a signal -- in this case, he guessed it was 'bite me' -- and felt anger burn through him. He'd watched the little show King had put on and found himself on his feet, ready, not to intervene, but maybe distract, when he'd realized how turned on King's victim was, his breath quick and shallow, that ripe mouth red, the blue eyes half-hidden under half-lowered eyelashes -- and the guy's dick straining the front of his jeans.

King was right. Goddamn slut.

And if he was a slut, Jim was a fool for that unthinking tug of arousal he'd felt when he'd caught the man's eye and seen the blue eclipsed by black as his pupils dilated. More than a fool, now he'd managed to piss off King's toy and, inevitably, King himself.

Nice job, Jim. And he'd told himself on the bus ride here to keep a low profile; do his time, all six endless fucking years of it, and then leave, start over.

He stared after Sandburg's retreating ass and shook his head. He'd never dealt with disappointment well, but expecting self-respect and backbone from a pretty face in the slammer -- yeah, like that was going to happen. Slut-boy wasn't the idiot; he was.

Sandburg reached King's side and stood there quietly, a respectful distance away, his head bowed slightly as he stared down at the floor. Jim looked at the mass of hair caught back by a strip of black leather and found himself following a single strand of hair from where it sprang from Sandburg's head to where it lay against his back. Long hair in prison wasn't a good idea; it gave people something to grab in a fight and it made you look feminine, especially when it was all thick curls like Sandburg's, and a warm, living brown. He wondered if Sandburg chose to wear it that way, or if it was something he'd been made to do by his protector.

King… Jim knew all about him. He'd been out of the country when King had gone to trial for killing Diana Sims, but when it'd looked likely that Jim would be sentenced to serve his time in Starkville he'd asked around and gotten some background information on the place. The warden, Banks, was a man whose reputation had been that of a hard-ass cop, but decent enough, until his young son had been killed in a terrorist bombing. His wife had left him six months later, and Banks had transferred from the police department to the prisons, sentencing himself to a life surrounded by criminals, any crusading fervor long since died down to a sullen indifference laced with moments of bitter, icy rage.

Banks was more to be pitied than anything, but King was scum. If he died, or got transferred, it wouldn't change anything, though. There was always a King and Jim was willing to pay the man lip-service if it got him a quiet life -- within limits. He wouldn't kill for him and he wasn't sure he'd have bent over for the guy as Sandburg had done, but then, Jim, without vanity, knew that he wasn't the type to get fucked in the darkness, his body owned or bartered. He was ex-Army, a man who'd killed efficiently and without hesitation when he had to, and it showed. He'd get offers of sex from men like Sandburg but he'd never have to endure what they did.

After a few years, he'd probably start saying yes to the offers, too.

He was blocking the way to the counter and before he got into any more trouble he moved away, walking slowly toward the door as he wondered how quickly Sandburg would babble out a complaint. Without thinking, he extended his senses and listened in, but King was still talking to the guard, something about a work detail he wanted changing, and Sandburg was silently waiting.

He shouldn't use the senses, not in here. They wouldn't be needed -- the only person he wanted to look out for was himself -- and he dreaded what he'd hear and see and smell. Oh, God, the smell, the thick reek of fear and the more prosaic odors of sweat, urine, and cheap disinfectant. Prisons stank. Jim had felt his nostrils burn and his throat close up after just five minutes behind the prison's walls.

The guard moved away and before Sandburg could open his pretty mouth, a thin man with slicked-back reddish hair, who'd been one of the people watching Sandburg at the counter, sidled up to King, his expression ingratiating, his gaze cutting sideways to Sandburg for a split second.

Sandburg stiffened as if he was about to speak -- but King was already listening to Carrots. Sucked to be invisible unless you were on your knees…

Jim didn't speed up. He wanted to see how this played out and he wanted some space between him and King -- who was one big man, he'd give him that, sleekly muscled, his body hard. Carrots was spinning a story that was accurate enough as far as it went, but, which Jim found interesting, subtly blamed Sandburg for the incident. Vicious little shit-stirrer, Jim thought and surprised himself by the strength of his antipathy.

Sandburg was talking now, a swift, urgent gabble as he defended himself. Jim waited to be made into the villain, but it didn't happen. That interested Jim even more; Sandburg didn't have any reason to protect him, so why the swift turnaround from open hostility to this?

" -- knee gave way, the one I landed on when Carver hit me, and the guy, Ellison, he grabbed me and pulled me back up, that's all. He didn't know I was yours, King, and he didn't mean anything by it --"

"Save it," King ordered. He turned and crooked his finger at Jim. "You. Get your ass over here."

Jim raised his eyebrows and glanced around, meeting hastily averted faces. The guards on duty had melted away. "Me?" he said, playing the innocent.

"Yeah, you." King cracked his knuckles, the crunch of bone enough to set Jim's teeth on edge. "Here. I want to talk to you."

"And I want to talk to you," Jim said easily, stopping just at the limit of King's reach. "I've got a message for you --" King's fist struck him in the belly, a hard, solid punch, delivered as King stepped forward, moving with a speed that Jim hadn't expected from a man that heavy. He grunted in shock, the breath knocked out of him, and doubled over, his hand rising in a placating gesture.

"Yeah?" King was grinning now, his fist drawing back again. "Anyone ever tell you that actions speak louder than words?"

"From -- uhn -- from your brother," Jim gritted out through his attempts to drag some air back into his lungs.

"What?" King frowned and let his hand fall to his side. "You know Chris?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Carrots lick nervously at his lips and step back, a futile attempt to distance himself from the pot he'd stirred before he got burned.

"We're not --" Jim paused and concentrated on breathing and convincing his body that it was safe to straighten up. He wasn't prepared for this conversation; he hadn't planned on using his ace this early in the game. He knew who he blamed for the change in plans, though, and it wasn't the redhead. Why hadn't Sandburg gotten his ass out of the fucking way? He got five seconds to catch his breath and then King made an impatient sound deep in his throat.

"Okay, it's your first day, so I'll cut you a break on touching my property seeing as you know Chris. I wanted to talk to you anyway, but not here. You come with me."

"I should be --" Jim hesitated, unsure of where he should be going. The warden had come out into the yard to meet them when Jim and six other men had gotten off the bus, shackled and morose. Banks was a tall man, a once-strong, elegant frame beginning to blur from lack of exercise, his dark skin oddly dull, like his eyes. But his voice had snapped out a terse welcome of sorts around the thick cigar he was smoking and he'd told them that they'd be excused work until the following morning to give them time to settle in.

"First day," King said again. "You don't need to do nothing but make new friends, boy, and let me tell you, I can be the best friend you've ever had if you behave yourself."

Without meaning to do it, Jim glanced at Blair.

King chuckled, the sound not remotely reassuring. "Not like that." His hand reached out and caressed Sandburg's face. Jim would have been unable to resist the urge to wipe his skin clean afterward, but Sandburg took it in silence, his expression blank. "Though Sandburg's good at behaving, aren't you?"

"Yes, King," Sandburg agreed, with a grave nod. "I'm real good at lots of things."

The mockery in Sandburg's eyes was so clear to Jim that he braced himself for the blow that would inevitably follow, but King just chuckled again and gave Sandburg's face a brisk pat.

"Seems Sandburg's down to work in the garden," King remarked. "I could've gotten him out of it, but the fresh air puts color in his cheeks." The next pat landed on Sandburg's ass. "And anywhere the fresh air misses, I take care of, isn't that right?"

The constant need for agreement from Sandburg, no matter how rote, how scripted, was telling. King wasn't as confident as he appeared. Good to know. Jim waited through another murmured proof of just how whipped Sandburg was and then fell in behind the pair, Carrots long gone, and followed them out to the garden.

He looked at the fenced-in space without much interest. He wouldn't be working here for a while; it was hard work, but out in the fresh air, and for Sandburg to be assigned to a coveted job, either he'd been here a while -- unlikely as even with a protector, Jim didn't rate Sandburg's chances of survival high -- or King had pulled some strings for his pet.

The garden was large, the rows of vegetables neat and orderly, but there was a dispirited air to the plants, as if the sun shone less brightly here, and the rain fell too lightly. Jim picked a cherry tomato off a plant, studied it, and then smiled cheerfully at King and popped it into his mouth.

He got a measuring look back and then King nodded, as if Jim had confirmed his expectations, and made his way to a place where a tall tangle of beanstalks provided a certain amount of privacy. Sandburg had been handed a plastic bucket and a small trowel by the guard at the gate, the trowel marked with a number and Sandburg's possession of it recorded on a clipboard. Without looking at Jim, Sandburg knelt and began to clear weeds from around the base of the beans, his hands deft but unhurried.

Time. There was plenty of it here.

"So Chris sent you."

Jim shrugged. "Not exactly. When he found out this was where I was headed, he came to see me. Said I'd done him a favor and if I mentioned his name to you…"

"Yeah." King looked tolerantly understanding. "I get it. I lay off pulping you unless you really piss me off." A flicker of suspicion showed. "What I don't get is why Chris owes you. You work for him or something?"

"Not exactly," Jim said carefully. Sandburg paused, his knuckles suddenly white on the wooden handle of the trowel. "I worked for Norman Ventriss."

"That fucker?" King spat, the filmy liquid landing close to Jim's boot. Jim didn't glance down. "Chris hates his guts. If you're one of his men, why would Chris trust you? This is bullshit --"

"He trusts him because Ellison killed Ventriss' son."

The quiet words from Sandburg silenced King and left Jim with nothing to do but nod when King raised his eyebrows.

"Okay," King said finally. "I can see how that would change things." He pursed his lips. "Yeah, I read about that… followed the case in the paper. I just forgot your name, is all."

Sandburg didn't say anything, but Jim caught a twitch of his shoulders that was eloquent enough. Yeah, Jim didn't think that King could read without moving his lips, either. His brother had all the smarts in the family -- except Chris wasn't as close to Carl as Carl wanted people to think.

Only half-brothers, in fact, sharing a rich father, but where Chris was legitimate, his daddy's boy, acknowledged and loved, Carl's mother was an addict who'd been pretty enough at one point to keep Peter King around for long enough that he paid for the son she'd had, once he'd confirmed it was his.

Chris and Carl hadn't met until they were in their twenties, when Peter's death and an unexpected codicil to his will had brought Carl out of obscurity.

"He's a fucking liability, Ellison," Chris King had said, leaning close to Jim in the small interview room, closer than Jim liked, "but he's got connections of his own, even where he is, and with what my father left him, he's not penniless. That woman he killed was the daughter of one of the Mayor's friends, for God's sake -- I cleaned him up, introduced him -- but blood will out, and his mother--" Chris had dabbed at his mouth with a pristine square of cotton, out of place in the dingy room in his expensive clothes, his polished shoes. "Never mind. He's in prison and I've done as much damage control as I can so that the King name isn't sullied."

You run drugs, Jim wanted to point out. Sell them to kids in playgrounds. It couldn't get much filthier. He settled for a nod.

"He's family. I can't… change that."

Which meant Carl was about the only person in the world Chris was squeamish about killing for whatever reason.

"But he can help you in there if I ask him to." Chris looked vaguely proud. "He runs that place, more or less."

"I'm still not seeing why you want to help me," Jim said bluntly.

"No?" King smiled, wide and sharp. "Norman Ventriss was left devastated by the loss of that serpent's tooth he called a son and I, well, let's just say I made a killing of my own when he was incapacitated. To the tune of nearly seven million dollars." King arched his eyebrows. "You see why I'm grateful?"

"I guess." It didn't really matter. He was going to prison for six years and no amount of 'friends' bought with the blood of a peach-fuzz faced kid would make it anything less than a slice of hell.

"And because I'm handling Carl's investments for him, he'll be grateful, too. So when you see my brother, tell him hello from me, naturally, and that I said he should consider you as one of the family."

"Just as long as I'm not a kissing cousin," Jim said dryly.

A look of distaste passed over King's face. "As to that, I don't believe you're his type." He gave Jim a thoughtful look. "You really did upset poor Norman," he mused. "Tell Carl that in addition to his protection, I'd take it as a favor to me if he could do something special for you. If there's something you want, or, well, six years is a long time, someone, let him know. You're not married, so there won't be any officially sanctioned conjugal visits, but if you had a girlfriend, then perhaps something could be arranged…"

"There's no one." Jim shrugged. "I'm not much of a catch."

"Don't underestimate yourself." King stood. "I'll speak to my brother myself once you've settled in. For now, just tell him that you're under my protection and I hope he'll honor that."

"Thanks," Jim said and tried not to hear the weariness and suspicion in his voice.

And now here he was, and it tasted bitter to claim this jerk's protection, and risky, too, because Jim hadn't had time to assess the prison and its power dynamics, but he didn't have much choice.

"Jim Ellison," Jim told Carl. "And your brother said…" He hesitated and then got the words out. "That he'd like you to treat me like family."

The trowel in Sandburg's hand twisted like a hooked fish and his shoulders hunched in on themselves. Something had touched a nerve; Jim heard Sandburg's heart speed up and caught a whiff of fresh sweat, acrid and sour, as if what had prompted its release wasn't the bright sun or the task Sandburg was performing, but an emotion. Fear? Despair? Jim didn't know. He hadn't been trained to use his senses to that level of expertise -- there hadn't been time -- and he knew, with some guilt, that he hadn't pushed himself past what he'd been taught.

It didn't matter. Carl beamed at him, his large hand delivering a friendly slap to Jim's shoulder, and Jim forced a smile onto his face as false as Carl's undoubtedly was.

And Sandburg's trowel slashed across a thick stem and severed it, the half-ripe beans clinging to it still green in the afternoon light, but doomed to wither and shrivel within an hour or two.

***

Blair dipped his paint brush into the can and drew it against the side to get rid of the excess, which dripped back, looking like liquid mud. The pale brown of the new paint wasn't doing a great job of covering the original shade of dark green on the walls, but the brown had been donated in bulk by a hardware store in town looking for a tax write-off and primer would have had to come out of a budget somewhere.

Keep painting until you run out of paint or you can't see the fucking green, then, he'd been told when he pointed out the paint's deficiencies.

Blair was resigned to spending most of the week on a job that should have taken a few days; it wasn't as if he had anything better to do. He rubbed at his aching shoulder. Some help would've been nice, but the man assigned to the chore with him was down with stomach flu.

He kicked at the drop cloth on the floor to smooth it out and then decided to take a break. His hand was cramped and with the door closed and the high, barred windows not designed to be opened, he was getting a headache.

He found a piece of wall that was green, not brown, to lean against and sat with his back to it.

The quietness of the place, destined to become a classroom, seeped into him and he felt himself relax in increments, the bliss of knowing that King was on the other side of the prison like a cool hand on his head, taking away the continual hum of tension.

Maybe he'd sign up for some more classes. Most of the prisoners did one or two, either as a way of filling in the long, empty hours, out of a genuine interest in the subject, or as a way of impressing the parole board. They sat, well-behaved for the most part, as someone from the outside, male or female, expensive scents clinging to their clothes, walking in a cloud of fresh air from outside, lectured to them with varying degrees of apprehension in their eyes, and then walked out.

Went home. Just… left.

Blair signed up for the classes mostly just to stare at a new face and feel envy and contempt eat him.

They were free and they chose to be here. Idiots. Fools.

His ass hurt and he shifted position until sitting was less of a memory of pain received.

It had been a week since Ellison had arrived and King, for all his overt friendship with the new fish, had never gotten over his initial suspicion that Ellison wanted his toy. Dumb of him; Blair could feel Ellison's gaze on him when they were in the same room, but it was a cool, wrinkled-nose appraisal, the kind a man would give to some shit on the bottom of his shoe.

No heat, no passion in those ice-blue eyes.

Blair couldn't hate anyone more than he hated King, but if Ellison's stares were to blame for the recent nightly spanking and reaming of his ass, he was willing to let Ellison occupy second place on his own shit-list. Last night had been hell.

"You've been such a bad baby boy, haven't you?" Thick fingers, two of them, went from Blair's busy, frantically sucking mouth to his ass, screwing into him with a brutal efficiency. King's lap was broad and wide, but not comfortable. Blair couldn't breathe, his ribs compressed, his stinging ass flinching away less from the scrape and shove of quickly drying fingers (don't make me suck them again, please…) than the memory of being spanked until a touch was agony and an additional slap would have broken him enough that his tears would have been real.

"Yes, Daddy, sorry, Daddy -- please, oh God, so sore -- please --"

He heard himself babbling with a detached disgust at how good he was at this, how he knew the exact words to say, not to end his ordeal immediately -- never gonna happen -- but to inflame King to the point where it would be over more quickly.

"Yeah, you look red down here. Not as red as your sweet little ass, though." Pat-pat on his ass with King's free hand, two smart, light cracks of his palm, and Blair screamed through his clenched teeth, loud in his head, barely audible outside it, a stifled shriek followed by a gasp for breath. King chuckled, excited, drunk on the power of having Blair just where he wanted him.

"Need a bit more reminding of who you belong to, baby? Need some more spanking?"

"No! No, I know, I do, I swear it. I'm yours. I belong -- ah -- oh fuck, please don't hit me again. Please? I belong to you."

"I think you need a little more reminding." Silky-sweet and reasonable, which meant nothing. The monster could be controlled, but Blair was lost in pain and shame and his brain wasn't fucking working the way it should.

"Yes, yes, I do," he said, fervent, pleading. "Show me. Fuck me. Use me."

Just don't fucking spank me again, or I'll throw up on you, and that's not one of your kinks, is it?

The fingers ground in deeper and he heard King grunt with satisfaction as Blair arched as much as he could and rode the fingers fucking him in a sham of eagerness.

"Slut."

If he was, he was considering celibacy when he got out. The celibate slut… yeah, he could handle a really long dry spell after this. Maybe there was a monastery somewhere that took men like him in. Men who knew how to kneel and worship, mouths full of praise for what they were looking up at.

He managed one more 'please' and then his face was pressed against a thin, scratchy blanket on the bunk and the sweat on his chest and belly was drying in the cool air. He could breathe again.

King fumbled for the small bottle of oil he used for lube -- cooking oil wasn't Astroglide, and left stains, but small mercies, small mercies -- and coated his dick. Blair tensed. King used condoms, acquiring them from an unknown source. Like the oil, they were for his own safety and comfort, not Blair's. King's medicals showed him as clean; if that ever changed, he'd fuck bareback and take as many men with him as he could, Blair was sure of it, but for now, King played it safe.

He just didn't have an unlimited supply of rubbers and he didn't usually fuck Blair every single goddamned night -- Had there been a rustle of foil or not?

Blair licked his lips. "You -- you're using a rubber, right?"

The silence behind him held a still, scary quality to it. The oiled fingers, three this time, that punished the question, split Blair open, hurting in a way that was unendurable.

He didn't often pass out. King didn't like his fun being spoiled and Blair was terrified of not being in any position to control events. If King gagged him and robbed him of his words, he felt the same clawing, rising panic.

But the red-black agony took the choice away from him and when he'd woken he'd hurt too much to know or care what had been done to him while he lay unconscious.

When he recovered enough to think about it, the stiff crackle of dried come in his hair was a relief, even if it meant he had to stumble to the showers and, as King wasn't around, run a gauntlet of slaps and whistles when he turned his bare, bruised ass to the room and his face to the lukewarm spray.

The door opened and he scrambled to his feet, biting back a groan as his body protested. There might have been a flicker of sympathy on the guard's face; he didn't comment on Blair's unauthorized break anyway.

"Got you someone to help, Michelangelo."

Blair forced a smile at Taggart; not too difficult as he was one of the guards who seemed to lack a sadistic streak. "It's a big room, but it's not the Sistine Chapel." His smile faded as Taggart stepped aside and Ellison, in new blue overalls, stiff and clean, walked in.

No. Not him. King finds out and I'm -- Finds out? He already knows, has to. Shit. Shit --

His distress must have shown on his face. Taggart cleared his throat and said gently, "Warden Banks' orders."

That was small comfort.

The door closed and Blair was left alone with a man who was staring at him again, a small frown marring his forehead, his mouth tight with annoyance.

"Paint and a brush is over there, man," Blair said eventually. "You can probably work out what to stick where, right?"

"Funny."

"Wasn't meant to be." Blair moved a step toward his own paint can and caught his foot in a fold of the drop cloth. He didn't fall, but the jar was enough to make him suck in his breath as stiff muscles and bruised skin protested.

"About as funny as your choice of protector."

Ellison really didn't go for small talk, did he? "Okay, that's enough --"

"He keeps you safe from everyone but him," Ellison murmured, as if to himself. "Except he's the biggest threat to you. You fucked up there, Chief. Big time. Because there are plenty of mean sons of bitches here, but no one as twisted in the head as King. He's going to kill you one day soon, you know that, right? Take his games too far one night and --"

Blair had let him talk because he was too tired to fight back and he was used to letting harsh words wash over him even when they stung like cold, salt water on abraded skin, but this was too much. "You talk about his games to people and you'll die before me." He spun around and poked Ellison's shoulder. "What the hell do you know about them anyway?"

Ellison glanced down at Blair's hand until Blair snatched it back, and smiled faintly. "I'm in a cell nearby, remember?"

"Eight cells away," Blair contradicted him. "Too far to hear anything. He doesn't make much noise --"

"You'd be surprised." Ellison grimaced as if he wanted to spit out something foul. "I'd say you were the quiet one. What he does to you -- but you don't yell. Why is that?" His hand rose and Blair stood still as a fingertip stroked from one corner of his mouth to the other, an exploratory touch, impersonal and assessing. "No gag marks…"

Blair knocked Ellison's hand away, trembling from the light contact. "Don't touch me!" He scrubbed at his mouth hard with his hand. "He'll know if you've touched me."

"No, he won't," Ellison said with an infuriatingly calm certainty. "But I know where he's touched you."

"What? How?" Blair often felt as if the skin King had touched had been left slimy, grimed, but he wasn't so far gone that he believed it was visible to anyone else.

"By the bruises." Ellison glanced at the painting equipment and rolled his shoulders. "Better get started."

"Fuck the painting." Blair was so tense that his teeth ached. "Bruises? Yeah, I've got bruises, but I'm still breathing and I'm going to stay that way. I get out of here in three years, less if I behave, and I will, I'll be a fucking model prisoner; King's in for life. I'll walk away and leave him to rot and I'll be smiling when I do it." With the deliberate cruelty he'd learned at King's hands, he asked, smiling, "How long have you got in here?"

The flinch showed in Ellison's eyes, which widened a fraction and then went blank. Victory, but it didn't feel like it. "Six years at the most," Ellison told him. "So you can wave goodbye to me, too, I guess."

"If you last that long."

"Hostile little fuck, aren't you?"

Blair gave Ellison his best flirtatious look, deliberately overdoing the pouting lips. "Want to see the bruises you're responsible for and then call me that again?"

That got him a frown. "Huh? I haven't touched you."

Ellison had. His hand on Blair's shoulder, his fingers on Blair's face…

"You didn't need to. You looked. And King did the touching for you." Blair shook his head, losing interest in the game. "Forget it. Paint."

"He did what?" Ellison's nostrils flared and then he visibly calmed down. "You're trying to make me feel guilty, is that it? I'm not as easy to manipulate as your boyfriend. Better remember that, Trixie."

"Stop calling me that." Blair lost it. There was a buzz in his ears, a hollow pounding in his chest and he was seeing two Ellisons, but it wasn't going to stop him taking a swing at one of them. "Stop it --"

His fist connected, not with an arrogantly tilted jaw, or the throat he'd been aiming at --fighting clean was for losers -- but Ellison's palm. Which closed over Blair's fist and began to squeeze. The additional pain had him panting out curses but Ellison didn't ease up.

"Want me on my knees begging?" Blair shook his head wildly. "No. Not to you. Never for you." The grip tightened and he could swear he heard bones crunch and grind. "I won't fucking do it."

Ellison sighed. "Just say 'please, stop'. I know you can do that. I heard you say it last night often enough."

Blair choked, a soft, shocked grunt of betrayal. Bad enough to have to do the things he did, without having an audience for the secret moments, the private filth. "You sick fuck!"

Abruptly, his crushed hand was released. "Close enough." Ellison sounded bored now. "I hope you can still hold a brush, Chief; I don't want this job to take long."

"Why? Got somewhere you'd rather be?" Blair demanded. Pins and needles shot through his fingers and he flexed them gingerly. If they were broken, if he couldn't use them -- shit, he wouldn't be able to --

Ellison's gaze moved from the closed windows to the shut door. "I don't like the way it smells in here."

Blair cradled his throbbing hand. Moving his fingers had hurt, but they weren't broken. If they were swollen or bruised, King might think he'd done it the night before…yeah, that could work. "I had a shower this morning, so I'm not taking that one personally."

"I know," Ellison said absently. "I saw you. All of you." He bent to pick up his brush. "If you meant it about some of those marks being punishment because King thinks he's got competition for you --"

"I meant it and he thinks it. He won't believe me when I say I'd sooner suck a dog's dick than yours."

Ellison clicked his tongue reprovingly. "Wait until you're asked, huh? And I'm not planning on asking. Want me to speak to King?"

Blair gave an incredulous laugh. "You've got to be fucking kidding me. Or do you hate me that much?"

Ellison didn't even look at him. "Point taken. So I'll stop looking, King will get bored of playing, and it'll be back to normal until -- no, wait. He won't get bored because he gets off on it. Hmm. Guess you've got a problem, Chief. Of course, he may get bored of you. Just what does happen to punks King gets tired of, anyway?"

Blair hadn't been inside long enough to know from personal experience, but he'd heard rumors. The one before him who'd been released had been the lucky one, the lottery winner. From the distaste on Ellison's face, he knew all the nasty details. "He doesn't pass them on to his buddies, if that's what you're hoping."

"Unless one of his buddies is into fucking corpses."

Bright sparks were flickering in front of his eyes, anger and fear combining to make him dizzy. "What do you want from me? Want me to admit I screwed up? That maybe I should've just kept my head down and hoped no one noticed me --"

"That wouldn't have helped. Not with your mouth."

Blair laughed, bitter and sharp. "Knew you wanted me to suck you."

"I meant you talk too much, but take it how you like." Ellison picked up his paint tray and filled it from the open can, the conversation over for him, judging by his silence.

Blair watched Ellison start to slap paint on the wall with efficient, swift strokes. "You've admitted you were looking."

Ellison didn't respond.

"Didn't tell me why."

Blair filled the continuing silence with a mocking chuckle and then got back to work himself, feeling oddly refreshed.

It felt good to fight back.

***

Half a long wall painted and Jim was suffering. The fumes of the paint were making his head swim and his nose clamp down as if he had the head cold from hell. Forced to breathe through his mouth, the thick, chemical reek felt as if it'd been plastered over his taste buds like rancid butter, which made him want to throw up every time he swallowed.

Sandburg was painting in an angry silence and Jim couldn’t blame him. They barely knew each other and Jim knew he'd come on strong, pushing the kid hard. In his defense, he'd woken feeling as emotionally beat-up as Sandburg's body had to be, raw from a night spent listening to what everyone else in earshot was studiously avoiding hearing. Sandburg was right when he said that King kept the noise down, but the flat crack of a hand on bare flesh carried, and for Jim each slap had sounded louder than the one before it, the noise snowballing, filling his head. He'd clamped his hands over his ears and given a frustrated groan, only to have Turner in the bunk above pointedly roll to his side, away from the sounds.

To Turner, they'd have been faint, and Sandburg's mumbled words inaudible; for Jim, it was as if Sandburg was talking to him, begging him for mercy. He found himself mouthing 'stop', 'enough' along with Sandburg, adding his own silent pleas to Sandburg's broken, fervent gabbles.

He'd closed his eyes, dry and burning, when Sandburg passed out, and then opened them again, staring up into the crossed wire framework supporting the bed above him, when a balked, annoyed King swore, tried to slap Sandburg awake, and then jerked off onto Sandburg's face, wiping himself clean on Sandburg's hair.

Jim knew he'd done that because Sandburg had passed him on the way to the showers, his eyes glazed, and he'd smelled the dried semen on his skin, seen it clinging to the wild tangle of brown framing Sandburg's dirty-white face, and slotted the last piece into the puzzle.

He wanted to tell Sandburg that he was safe and that he hadn't been fucked bare, but he didn't think it would go down well. Safe was such a relative term.

And it was getting to the point where he didn't have much sympathy to spare for anyone but himself, because his eyes were tearing up and he was choking.

"Are you okay?"

"Allergies," he managed to say and then he dropped the wet brush and watched it spatter brown onto the grimy drop cloth before falling to his knees, his legs refusing to hold him up. All he could smell, all he could taste, all he could see, was brown, brown, brownbrownbrown --

An eternity later, he surfaced with the abruptness of fingers snapping and found himself with his head in Sandburg's lap, looking up into hostile blue eyes.

"You're not dead."

"You hoped I was?" he managed to say through a dust-dry mouth.

"It might have made my life easier." Sandburg slipped his hand under Jim's neck and supported his head for long enough to allow him to shift away a little. Jim braced himself for a bump but Sandburg eased his head down gently, even if his face was scowling. The drop cloth wasn't as comfortable as Sandburg's lap, but Jim wasn't complaining.

"I suppose you're wondering why I didn't call for help."

"Not really." Jim passed his tongue over his lips. "Nothing they could've done."

"No." Sandburg hesitated and then said, "Are you on something?"

"No."

"That wasn't an allergic reaction."

"Thanks for the diagnosis, Doc."

"You were gone, man. Totally out of it."

Jim could only imagine. He'd dealt with these fugue states before and knew the dangers they posed. What he was fuzzy on was how Sandburg had brought him out of this one without taking him away from the cause of the problem. Belatedly, he realized that Sandburg's hand was still cradling his head and that the paint smelled like fresh paint, not toxic waste.

"You can move your hand."

"Yeah? Really?" Sandburg sounded dryly skeptical. "You asked for it…" He jerked his hand away and Jim's head hit the deck with a small thud.

The small pain was lost in the wave of nausea that followed, sweeping over him within seconds, inexorable and pitiless. He turned his head away from the man kneeling beside him and spat, saliva drooling from his mouth, sweat greasy down his back. "Oh God --"

A cool hand slid into his and he clutched it like the lifeline it was and spat once more as the world stopped spinning.

"That happened before." Sandburg's voice was clinically detached, but there was a tinge of interest there, too. "I slapped your face to bring you out of it, then grabbed your head and sort of shook you --"

"Your bedside manner needs work, Chief."

"And it helped, because you opened your eyes, but when I took my hands away, you just -- went away again. Like I was your battery or something. No Sandburg magic hands and bam, power dead, strings cut, Ellison out for the count."

"Fascinating." He was so fucked. So fucked.

Jim got it together enough to sit up and wriggle around so that his back was to an unpainted section of wall. Sandburg was kneeling -- easier on his well-used ass, Jim assumed -- but he accommodated Jim's change of position and moved with him, not letting go of Jim's hand.

"So what now?" Sandburg asked. "Because cute though we'd look holding hands as we walk down the corridor, I'm not seeing it as a long-term solution."

"I'll be okay once we get out of here."

"If you say so."

Sandburg hadn't asked for an explanation, but he was about to; Jim could see the kid visibly debating which burning question to demand an answer to first. Time to head him off; take control of the conversation and how much information was handed over.

"When I was in the army, I was exposed to some chemicals and something in the paint must've triggered a flashback." Sandburg's eyes widened and Jim continued fast, because that hadn't sounded all that convincing. "So, yeah, it's kind of like drugs, but not really. I guess the, uh, contact, it, uh -- distracts me. It's not you personally, of course." Hadn't there been a time when he thought fast on his feet? True, his head was pounding and his mouth tasted like crap, but this was pathetic.

"Bullshit." Succinct appraisal delivered, Sandburg took a deep breath and prepared to expand on it. Jim stopped him with a raised hand.

"Okay, it's bullshit. But it's the only explanation you're getting, so deal with it."

"Oh, I don't think so." The son of a bitch took his hand away, a gleam of triumph in his baby blues, and scrambled back fast as Jim reached out to grab him, hold onto him, keep him close.

The nausea wasn't as intense this time; his body was filtering out the excess stimulation and shunting it over to the side. He knew what lay at the end of that path if he couldn't stop traveling it; a numbness of body and spirit almost as debilitating and risky as when he overloaded, but for a while at least he'd be normal. The cycle would repeat a few times, less if he was lucky, and then he'd be back to normal. Normal for him, anyway.

He got to his feet as Sandburg did and lurched after him, his desperation and Sandburg's injuries combining to give him the edge. When he had Sandburg in his grip, one hand curled around a bicep, the other thrust into Sandburg's hair, a pragmatic way of combining touch with a handhold, he felt better.

Sandburg struggled, kicked, punched, but Jim held on, yanking hard at Sandburg's hair until he felt strands of it starting to tear free of the scalp that anchored them. He eased back then; he didn't want to damage Sandburg. after all, and he really didn't want to follow in King's footsteps. "Hold still," he hissed. "Don't make me hurt you."

The bleakness that crossed Sandburg's face told him how ill-chosen his words had been. "Fuck. Sorry. Look, just let me -- let me touch you, just until I feel better. It won't take long."

"We don't have long," Sandburg told him. "And when the guard sees how much of this room isn't painted --"

"We're tight with King; what's he going to say? And if I get taken off this chore, that suits me fine."

"There are worse jobs," Sandburg said darkly, but he stopped struggling and, with a roll of his eyes, reached up to where Jim's hand was tangled in his hair. "Stop that and hold my hand again; less wear and tear on me."

Jim felt ridiculous standing facing Sandburg, their hands clasped, but it was helping him; each breath was easier, and he could feel the control he'd lost being returned to him with each moment.

"How long do we have to do this?" Sandburg asked, tugging at Jim's hand by way of illustration of what 'this' he meant.

It was a reasonable question, but Jim didn't have an answer. He shrugged. "I guess we just keep testing the water by letting go every few minutes."

Sandburg frowned in thought. "We need to work out what it is about me that's --"

"It's not you. Anybody would do." Jim wasn't entirely sure about that, but he didn't want Sandburg getting any ideas about how fucking vital he was. That way lay blackmail opportunities and leverage and he didn't need that.

Sandburg snorted, clearly not buying it. "No way, man. It's me. It's got to be me."

"Why?" Jim asked bluntly, his thumb moving absently over the back of Sandburg's hand, bumping over sharp knuckles and smooth skin, paint-flecked. "What difference does it make?"

He didn't get an answer, but given Sandburg's status (a little lower than just about everyone in the place with the possible exception of a child molester) he guessed that Sandburg was getting off on the idea that he mattered.

"What are you in here for?" he asked when the silence had stretched like taffy for long enough. Sandburg's sentence didn't imply anything too heinous, but these days, who knew?

Sandburg hunched his shoulder irritably. "What does it matter?"

"Just making conversation, kid."

"I prefer 'Trixie' to 'kid'."

Jim winced, realizing why that would be so, and made a bad situation worse as Sandburg noticed him doing it. "Sorry."

"You're sorry about a lot of things, aren't you?" Sandburg shook his head. "Insurance fraud."

"Oh." That didn't fit somehow. Curious, Jim pushed a little. "What, you claimed more than you should have? Arranged to have your car stolen? What?"

Goaded, Sandburg let out a gusty breath and snapped, "No! I was… storing some stuff. Stolen, then claimed for. Victimless crime, okay? No one got hurt stealing it and the insurance companies, man, they can afford it! They take your money and then they --"

"Save it," Jim told him. "I'm not interested in the social commentary." He felt oddly disappointed; it seemed on the petty side, somehow.

"People like you never are," Sandburg said scornfully. "I read about you. Ex-army to security guard; you're just a tool of the establishment."

Insults like that just rolled off Jim; he knew what he was and why he'd chosen the path he did. "Just don't break into anywhere I'm guarding, that's all."

"Yeah. Because you'll shoot me like you did that kid."

Jim smiled, slow and nasty. "Not unless you have a gun like he did and posed a credible threat."

"Nineteen," Blair reminded him -- like he needed reminding. "Untrained. You couldn't have wounded him?"

His sight expanding until the sneering face filled it, watching the thin lips shape whispered words to the girl with him, telling her what they'd do when the dumb-ass guard was bleeding out, watching the expensive gun rise to shoot…

"I could have, yeah. I just didn't fucking feel like it." Which was the truth, pure and simple, and every time he faced that truth, that moment where he'd lost the mission, he hated himself a little more. That boy had died because killing him had, in that split-second, been less trouble than shooting the gun out of his hand. Jim had been so fucking tired of people trying to kill him, flick him away like a buzzing fly because he inconvenienced their plans.

Not that night.

And he'd paid for it, with a jury swayed by the youth of his victim and a father's anguish, paid less than Ventriss had wanted, but, then, his son had already left one guard in a coma and his girl had spilled the details of the multi-million dollar coup they'd been planning. Hard to see the boy as the high-spirited, naïve innocent the high-priced lawyers had painted him, but enough of that illusion had stuck to earn Jim six years in prison.

His own lawyer had argued that Jim had been so far away that the kill shot was accidental, but that hadn't flown; the man had been clutching at straws by then, Jim's stony silence working against him.

It hadn't mattered. His senses had gone and lost in guilt and grief over his final betrayal of Incacha, Jim hadn't cared. That the senses had returned eventually, seeping back slowly, seemed now like an additional punishment, not a reprieve.

Sandburg let go of him. "Asshole."

He didn't bother to deny it. After a few careful breaths, he felt the next wave coming and held out his hand, asking, not taking. Sandburg's mouth pinched up, but he took Jim's offered hand in his again.

"It's getting better," Jim offered by way of thanks. He sorted through the strands of the conversation and picked the most innocuous to tug on. "So this stuff you were storing…?"

"What? Oh…" Sandburg shifted restlessly as if he wanted to move away. "Electrical. TVs. Computers. I lived in this abandoned warehouse, so I had plenty of space."

"What went wrong? Cops posing as customers?"

Sandburg laughed and shook his head. "Oh, man… No, I'd have smelled them coming, trust me. The place next door was making drugs and one night it just went boom, you know? I wasn't there, but when I got back, my place was crawling with cops and between my shit and the drug lab, I guess they thought it was their birthday. The drugs weren't anything to do with me, but the whole thing got kind of mixed together, you know?"

"You sleep with the dog, you wake up with fleas, Chief."

"The judge agreed with you." Sandburg's reminiscent smile faded. "And I'd almost gotten enough money together. One more month -- that was all I needed. One more lousy month."

"Needed for what?" He was feeling better now. He pulled his hand back until just his fingertips were in contact with Sandburg's palm and experimented, brushing them lightly against the supple skin, touching, not touching, touching --

Sandburg shivered and Jim felt the muscles under his fingertips contract sharply. "I -- look, could you stop that? It tickles."

Jim slid his fingers up to the pulse beating in Sandburg's wrist just to feel it leap, not caring that it could be interpreted as a come-on. "How's that?"

Sandburg's free hand slapped against Jim's groin and squeezed, surprising a gasp out of him. "I don't know," Sandburg said evenly. "How's this?"

He could feel every finger's differing pressure, even through the thick, stiff material of the overalls and the clothing beneath. Feel the way that Sandburg's index finger had come to rest over the head of his cock, already filling, rising. Sandburg exhaled and smiled, knowing what he'd done, the little shit, and his thumb rubbed purposefully, painfully, gloriously hard along the stretched out length of Jim's erection, going as far as it could in either direction without Sandburg actually moving his hand.

"Enough," Jim said and heard the longing in his voice that contradicted his command. Sandburg would feel so good, taste so sweet…he could show him what to do, how little Jim needed from him and how much. God, Incacha could make him come, crying out in startled delight, with a single breath, a single word, a single kiss. Location, location, location… Reluctantly, he took his hand away, and after a long moment, so did Sandburg.

They stood facing each other, Sandburg's throat working as he swallowed hard. "I needed the money to fund an expedition to Peru," Sandburg said harshly. "I'm still going to do it. When I get out of here, no matter what it takes, I'm going."

"Peru?" Jim gaped at him. "Why did you -- oh, fuck, this is crazy. This -- you -- " He stepped away, able to ignore the stink of the paint now, his head filled with a whirl of memories. "Why there?"

"Why do you care?"

"I -- I know it. When I was a Ranger, I was, uh, I was stationed there for a couple of years."

"Yeah?" Sandburg shrugged. "It's a big place. Not likely you were near where I want to go."

"The Chopec Pass." Jim didn't make it a question.

"How did you know that?" Sandburg said in a whisper, his eyes wide.

"It stops being a coincidence when you roll a seven a hundred times, Chief."

"Yeah? What does it become?"

"Enemy action," Jim said and crowded in close again, his mouth finding Sandburg's, a taste, not a kiss, nipping at that annoyingly closed pout of lips until it opened for him and let him test his theory.

Sandburg tore free but not until Jim had run his tongue over Sandburg's, stealing the taste from it and confirming his guess.

Sandburg tasted like Incacha.

"What the fuck was that?" Sandburg scrubbed at his mouth, his eyes wide and horrified. "You're not allowed to do that!"

Jim turned away and picked up his paintbrush and went back to painting. Sandburg was right; they needed more to show for an afternoon's work than this.

"Well?" Sandburg demanded.

Jim glanced back over his shoulder. "You wanted to find a Sentinel, didn't you? Bag and tag, catch or release? Or did you plan to take a cage with you?"

"How do you know all this?" Sandburg sounded half bemused, half resentful. "It didn't come out at the trial, and Sentinels…I've never met anyone else who's even heard of them."

"I wouldn't know if it had made the papers." Jim went back to his painting. "So I'm right. You wanted a Sentinel."

"To study, that's all," Sandburg said, and it sounded like the truth. "I lost my funding, got kicked off campus before I got my doctorate -- but I could've gotten a book deal out of this. We're talking best seller, movie deal…"

"That's nice," Jim said affably. "So who do you see playing me?"

***

It took a long moment for Blair for realize that Ellison was serious, even though the glance the man gave him was a smiling one.

"You -- you're a Sentinel? No! They're part of the tribe, they're -- you can't be!" He heard the spluttered, indignant, stupid words and forced himself to shut up until he had something worth saying.

"Get back to painting," Ellison said, his tone easy, relaxed. The son of a bitch sounded close to friendly now. "I really don't want to go through that again, and if I stay in here much longer, I will." He frowned. "Or maybe not. I should be feeling like I'm wrapped in cotton wool right now, but I feel fine. Huh."

"Cotton wool?" Blair blinked at him. "I don't get -- oh! One extreme to the other, no control, wildly oscillating until it slows to normal --" Okay, he was still stunned by Ellison's revelation, but his brain was working again, which was good. He couldn't afford to make reacting slowly a habit.

"You got it, Chief." Ellison was painting with fast, sloppy strokes that were getting the job done, though Blair wasn't sure how long Ellison could sustain his pace. "And I'll answer your questions -- I assume you've got some -- but only if you're painting when you ask them."

Blair was too used to trading a favor for a favor to object. He began painting again and kept his mouth shut as he processed what he'd learned. There were too many questions bubbling up and this time alone with Ellison was too limited to waste on irrelevancies.

"Why did you kiss me?" he asked finally. "What did you get from that?"

"It wasn't a kiss." Ellison didn't sound defensive about it, so Blair found himself accepting the statement as truth, something he wouldn't have done with anyone else. "I just needed to taste you and that was the easiest way."

"What did it tell you?" Blair persisted. He'd known it wasn't a kiss. He'd had more romantic encounters with his dentist.

"That you're --" The brush slowed and stopped, the bristles squashed against the wall, curled and bent, and then Ellison continued to paint. "That you can help me."

"Suppose I don't want to help you?"

The friendliness dropped away. Blair never had really trusted it. "Did I say you got a fucking choice?"

"Oh, man. No fucking way." Blair kicked the wall hard, not caring that it hurt more than his foot to do that, not caring that the scarred wall acquired a fresh dent. "I am not rolling over for you as well. Forget it. You're on your own, okay?"

Ellison grunted. "You don't have a choice, and you'll find that out for yourself, the same way I did." Was that a hint of bitterness?

"There's always a choice, even in here."

"For normal people, yeah."

"You're saying I'm not?"

"I'm saying that we're not," Ellison corrected him. He gave a mildly exasperated sigh. "Okay, let me lay it out for you. When did you get this bug up your ass about Sentinels?"

"I still haven't accepted you are one, you know, but fine, okay, I'll play." Blair thought back, curious himself, memories stirring as he remembered the day and his excitement. The thrill of the discovery itself, the idle question 'I wonder if they still exist?' followed by a gut-punch of absolute certainty that they did, the scope of it all stretching out, glittering with promise… "Uh, two, two and a half years ago."

"More precise. I'm betting there was a -- a moment, an event that did it. When?" The brush was moving again, but Blair could feel Ellison's attention focused on him, even with Ellison facing the wall, hands busy. It was unnerving, like the guy had eyes in the back of his head.

"Why?"

"Trust me, I've got a reason." Ellison turned. "Wait, don't tell me. Write it on the wall so I can't see it, and then I'll tell you."

"This is insane," Blair said quietly, under his breath, but he did it anyway, dipping his brush and scrawling a date on the wall.

"September 17th, 1989," Ellison said, with a flat certainty. Blair stepped aside but Ellison barely glanced at the confirmation, as if it had never been in doubt. "Thought so."

"Do you mind sharing why?" Blair couldn't help the acid edge to his voice. This was getting beyond weird. "Or were you stalking me?"

"I was in the jungle, fighting, so, no, I wasn't." Ellison threw him an inquiring look. "Going to tell me what happened that day? I'm not a mind reader, you know."

"Just a Sentinel," Blair said and supplied his own air-quotes. "Oh, why not? I'd won some money on a race and I walked into a bookstore with it in my pocket --"

"Looking Bookward on Prospect?"

"Yeah -- how did you --?"

"I used to live there," Ellison said shortly. "Rented a loft. I walked past that bookstore every day."

"I still don't get why you're assuming it's where I found out about Sentinels."

"It's just one more link, Chief. The people running this have a sense of humor, trust me on this. So you bought a book? The Burton one?"

"You know about it?" Blair blinked at him. "You've read it?"

"It's got a stain on a page in the middle of chapter seven, right?" Ellison squatted down to draw his brush along the top of the baseboard and then stood to stretch, leaving his brush on the tray. "That was me, age ten, trying to turn a page and eat a blue raspberry popsicle at the same time; it dripped."

This was too much. Too fucking freaky, too fucking -- He stalked over to Ellison and grabbed his shoulder, spinning the man around so that they were facing each other. "It was your book? Is that what you're saying? I bought your fucking book on the same day as -- what? What happened that day for you?"

Ellison's eyes fluttered closed for a second, as if he was blocking out something visible, but by the way he opened them again, it hadn't worked. "Incacha -- the shaman of the Chopec, the man who taught me, helped me -- he died. Shot by one of the soldiers come to rescue me." Ellison's mouth tightened. "Goddamn, interfering, reckless, bloodthirsty -- he smiled when Incacha fell; I saw his face and I lost it. I still had some rounds for my rifle, but I used a Chopec dart to bring him down, one of Incacha's own. He didn't deserve a quick death, but he got one anyway."

"Why are you telling me this?" Blair shook his head. "You just confessed to murdering a soldier! I could -- if I told --"

Ellison looked baffled. "Why shouldn't I tell you now that I know who you are? There's nothing I need to keep secret from you; it wouldn't make sense to even try. You need to know me, all of me, every way possible." He smiled, the ghosts chased out of his eyes by warm amusement. "You wanted a Sentinel to study? I'm all here and I'm all yours."

Blair gave a whine of uncomprehending frustration and punched Ellison's chest hard, accomplishing very little. He'd had one glimpse of Ellison in the shower and made damn sure not to look again, but an image of muscles and sleek hardness had lingered. "I don't want you! And you're not -- I don't know what you are, or what con you're trying to pull, but I'm not buying it."

"I get that it's a lot to take in, but you've got to try," Ellison said patiently. "I lost my shaman and the spirits -- yeah, I know how it sounds, but I've seen them, in visions, anyway -- they gave me a new one. You." Ellison's jaw tightened. "It's been… difficult on my own. I wish I'd found you sooner, Chief. Could be we'd both have stayed out of trouble then."

"So, what, I'm your guardian angel, is that it?" Blair hooted with laughter. "I don't think so! Man, you are just too much, you know that?"

"You can't deny the evidence."

"What evidence?" Blair gritted his teeth against the need to scream it. "I bought a book. I do that -- did that -- all the time. It -- possibly -- was a book you owned. You stayed with a tribe that might have historically had a Sentinel and you exhibited -- or faked -- a sensory overload that I somehow, magically brought you out of, or you pretended I did --"

"You don't think all that adds up to something?"

"I think a million zeros still add up to zero."

"Tell me what I can do to --" Ellison's head tilted to the side. "Someone's coming."

"What? Who?" Blair concentrated but couldn't hear anything beyond the background noise of two men in a room.

"That guard with the attitude; Brackett, and two of his pals," Ellison told him. "Better look busy, Chief." To Blair's surprise, before he picked up his brush again, Ellison touched his hand to Blair's face, cupping it lightly. "You know I'm not going to let King touch you again, right? That's over. It goes both ways; you watch my back and I look after you."

Blair jerked free, feeling panic well up. "Oh, no. No. You'll get us both killed."

"Maybe," Ellison said imperturbably, "but I don't share what's mine."

"I'm not yours," Blair hissed as he snatched up his brush and smacked it against the wall, paint drops flying. "Did you see 'property of Jim Ellison' tattooed on my ass in the shower this morning? I don't think so." He heard the clang of the door at the end of the corridor and wondered why it didn't really surprise him that Ellison had been right.

"I saw a lot of bruises."

"And a crown, right? King's mark. It's never coming off, and he's never going to hand me over, so get used to the idea of watching me blow him, because it's going to happen soon, and get used to seeing --"

The door to their room opened, drowning out Ellison's quiet, infuriating, "Not going to happen, Chief," with a metallic screech.

Brackett sauntered in, urbane and sleek, a faint smile on his lips. Blair had seen Brackett use the baton slung at his waist to reduce a man to a bleeding, broken mess without losing that smile. Of all the guards, Brackett was the only one who didn't acknowledge King's influence, though he'd never moved directly against him. For his part, King treated Brackett as if he was invisible, ignoring him to avoid a confrontation that he couldn't win.

Brackett's two men stayed in the doorway, blocking it, their faces blank. See no evil, hear no evil…Blair felt his mouth dry. This room had one exit and was at the end of a long corridor in a disused wing. No one was around to help them, and there was nowhere to run. He didn't know what Brackett wanted, but his body was reacting the same way as it did to King, trembling with an adrenaline rush, primed to yield openly and fight covertly. A few yards away, Ellison tensed, his nostrils flaring, his hand tightening on the paint brush which he'd flipped so that the handle protruded from his fist like a makeshift weapon.

"Well, now, ladies," Brackett said. "It looks like we were so busy making friends that we forgot we had a job to do." He glanced around at the half-painted walls. "Oh, this won't do at all. I came to escort you to a well-deserved meal, but I have to say I'm disappointed."

Blair kept his mouth shut and was glad that Ellison had the sense to do the same. Army training was probably a good introduction course for prison, when he thought about it. Without meaning to, he began to check off the similarities and was jarred out of a pleasant fog by the crack of a baton against skin. Brackett's skin: he was idly slapping the length of metal against his palm, his expression still pleasant.

"Laziness and disrespect. Both very serious offences in my book. I think there's a lesson to be learned here, don't you?"

His gaze was on Blair, who felt pinned down by it, a moth in its death throes. It had been a while since he'd had a panic attack; he just couldn't afford the luxury and somehow his body had recognized that fact. Or maybe his fuses had blown and nothing registered any longer.

He was about to have one now, triggered by nothing more than the knowing smirk on Brackett's face and the slow slide of his tongue across his lips, as if he could taste Blair's apprehension. His chest tightened and his breath rasped harshly, the air he inhaled thin, lacking oxygen.

Brackett stepped toward him, his eyes glinting with anticipation, and Ellison spoke with a cool indifference that bordered on insolence, as he tossed his brush aside.

"They don't need this room for another ten days; it'll be finished by then, so what's the fucking rush?"

Brackett turned on him. "Excellent point, Ellison. There is no rush. How foolish of me. Please --" He waved his hand. "Continue in your own time and take as long as you like." He tapped the baton against his thigh. "As long as you don't expect to get fed."

"Law says a prisoner's entitled --" The baton swung and caught Ellison's arm, not as hard a strike as it could have been; Brackett was playing with him.

"Entitled to food and water and not to be overcrowded and medical attention and oh, all sorts of privileges you animals don't deserve." Brackett beckoned to the men at the door and one came over to stand behind Ellison, gripping his upper arms. Brackett's mouth tightened and he began to use his baton on Ellison with more force, weaving the blows between his words, a soft, pained grunt from Ellison his only response. "Going to cry to Warden Banks that your tummy's grumbling, Ellison? Going to whimper and whine about how mean the nasty guard was?"

Ellison's head hung down now as he labored for breath, waiting for the next hit, and Blair felt an agony of pity for him. Hard to stand by and watch, but there was nothing he could do --

"Answer me!" Brackett stooped and swept the baton back before striking at Ellison's shins with a carefully calculated strength more frightening than blind anger would have been. Because Brackett wasn't at all annoyed with them; he was enjoying this. Blair had seen that same satisfied smile on King's face when he'd given the man some reason to punish him.

Before Ellison could speak -- not that Blair was sure the stubborn son of a bitch would -- Blair answered for him. "We won't. We'll finish it, no slacking off. But he can't paint if he can't stand up."

Brackett turned to glare at Blair and over his shoulder Blair saw Ellison lift his head far enough to mouth 'shut up' at him. Blair ignored the order and focused on Brackett. "You've made your point; we get it, okay?"

"Lesson learned?" Brackett pursed his lips thoughtfully and then smiled brightly. "Good to hear. I'll take your word for it, since you're such a … model of good behavior usually, Sandburg. So quick to do as you're told. Clearly, Ellison was a bad influence on you; I'll see to it that you two are separated in the future."

Ellison tensed visibly at that, and the guard behind him drove his knee into the back of one of Ellison's. "Stay still, you."

"See what I mean?" Brackett asked no one in particular before staring at Blair. "He's trouble. I'd stay well away from him."

"I plan to," Blair said, more for Ellison's benefit. The flicker of bewilderment in Ellison's eyes made him feel guilty, as if his words had been a betrayal, but what the hell could he do? "So we'll paint, okay? Just let us --" He faltered as Brackett was shaking his head slowly.

"Lesson learned, yes," Brackett said softly. "But you still get punished for failing. Ellison's had his; now it's your turn."

Blair could have sworn Ellison growled at that, a low rumble of displeasure, but Brackett didn't hear it or didn't care. "From what I heard, you're already a little damaged and I like to start with a clean canvas, so I don't think I'll add to your bruises. Hmm, let me see…"

Blair didn't bother waiting to hear the rest of it. He fell to his knees and parted his lips just enough to show willingness, giving Brackett a look of pure hate that got him no more than a delighted chuckle.

"I had something else in mind, but if you're offering…" Brackett gestured to the guard holding Ellison. "Wait outside the door with Reed. This won't take long. And I think I'd like Ellison on the floor as well."

The guard pushed Ellison to the ground and kicked him hard in the side. "You heard the man. Stay down."

The door closed and Blair swallowed, working his jaw, still stiff from the night before. This day was lurching from bad to totally fucked-up and he couldn't even comfort himself with the thought that it would improve once Brackett had finished with him. When King found out about all of this, he was going to lose it. Blair just had to figure out how to spin it so that King's anger was directed only at Brackett, not himself or Ellison.

Somewhere along the line, he'd stopped wanting to see Ellison bleed, even though the man was insane and as much a threat to Blair as King was, in his own way. Blair had zero interest in swapping protectors; even at his most optimistic he couldn't see Ellison as being easy to control and he knew King, all of him, every kink and quirk.

Ellison was an enigma.

Brackett walked over to a dry section of wall, leaned against it, and ran his hand nonchalantly over the bulge at his groin. He beckoned to Blair. "Over here. No, don't get up; crawl. I hear you're good at that; why don't you show me."

"No." Ellison's voice was hoarse but determined. He got up onto his knees and stared across the room at Brackett, his face impassive. "He's good enough for someone like King, but he's not going to impress you."

Brackett sniffed the air. "Is that noble self-sacrifice I can smell? You want to save him by taking his place?"

Ellison shrugged. "Not really into being noble or sacrificing myself for strangers. I just figure King finds out what I did and he'll owe me."

"Ah, enlightened self-interest." Brackett nodded, but Blair thought that he still looked suspicious. "That makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose."

"Plus, I make you happy and maybe you'll go easy on me next time… sir."

"Oh, now that does make sense." Brackett glanced between them. "Choices, choices…" He slid his zipper down smoothly. "I think I'll take what's behind door three."

"I don't get it," Blair said as Ellison went to his hands and knees and started to crawl, his face flushed but empty of expression.

"He means he wants us both to suck him," Ellison said over his shoulder, his voice conversational, "so get your ass over to him, okay?"

Both of them? Blair ducked his head down to give himself the illusion of not being watched and began to make his way over to Brackett, his heart hammering wildly, his cock hardening despite the revulsion Brackett inspired in him.

He wasn't thinking about Brackett as he crawled, the drop cloths soft under his hands in some places, dry and stiff with paint in others. He was thinking about Ellison kneeling beside him, his mouth open and wet, his tongue stroking over skin Blair had licked, their bodies nudging each other, their breath mingling.

He was hard. God help him, he was going to come doing this, he knew it, and that would mean going back to King reeking of spunk, his own and Brackett's.

Brackett was nothing; just another sadistic fuck in a uniform, predictable and annoying. Blair didn't have any real animosity to spare for him; Brackett wasn't worth it.

But Ellison… oh, God, he hated Ellison. This was all his fault. All of it.

He reached Brackett and knelt up, Ellison already in position, his hands on his thighs. As he leaned in, jostling Ellison to be the first one to get his mouth on the stiff cock poking out of Brackett's pants, salt-bitterness flooding his mouth at the first lick at the slick head, one of Ellison's hands moved to settle on his knee, squeezing it.

He'd have shaken it off if he hadn't suspected it was more for Ellison's benefit than his own.

Still hated him.


***

The kid didn't flinch; Jim had to give him that. He was willing to bet that before he got busted, Sandburg hadn't been into men, but he was the adaptable sort, and he was putting on as good a show as any whore would do, making sure that when Brackett looked down he got a good view, throwing in a few fervent hums of appreciation as if he was enjoying wrapping that pretty mouth of his around Brackett's pencil-dick.

Jim gripped Sandburg's leg harder, reminding himself of the truth -- that Sandburg was his -- so that he could get through this without doing something really stupid like snapping Brackett's neck or, even more appealing, biting off what Brackett seemed intent on shoving down his throat.

Sandburg wasn't happy about being ignored, but his eagerness had rebounded after a minute or so; Brackett had taken himself in hand and angled his dick toward the less willing Jim, who, resigned to the necessity, opened up without protest. His eyes were watering; Brackett's enthusiastic thrusts were too deep and his gag reflex was cutting in big time.

Help came from the only source in the room as Sandburg reached up to cup Brackett's balls through his pants, jiggling and squeezing them until Brackett, murmuring "God", eased back and unbuckled his heavy belt so that he could push his pants and shorts down a little to give Sandburg better access to him.

Something about that tugged at Jim's awareness. Brackett had responded so quickly, almost as if -- almost…

Incacha had used Jim as cop, judge, and jury; had shown him how the senses could be used to peel back every layer, every mask and wall, until the truth and the heart of a person were revealed. At times, it had felt close to magic, though Jim was the only one half-frightened, half-awed by his ability; the tribe had taken it as a matter of course. Without Incacha beside him, when he left the jungle, he couldn't do it, losing himself in a maze of input, unable to interpret it reliably unless the signs were so clear that anyone with even a little knowledge of body language and cues could have come to the same conclusion.

Now, with his initial blaze of joy at finding himself partnered again still warming him, with Sandburg -- Blair -- beside him, Jim felt every skill Incacha had taught him flooding back. He focused on Brackett and read the man, gathering information with each breath he took, filtering out what was coming from Blair, though he hated to do it, and shaping what he learned into a theory that felt right.

Brackett had made them both crawl; chosen both of them. Could be confidence and greed, or it could be that Brackett wanted to feel outnumbered, and got a thrill out of the danger. Blair had signaled that he wanted Brackett to get bare and Brackett had done it, quickly, without hesitation, his arousal heightened even before Blair's hand had touched skin.

Brackett leaned back again and grabbed at Jim's short hair and Sandburg's mop, pulling them closer. "Both of you at once. Come on. Get me good and wet. Suck my balls. Either of you as much as thinks about biting and I'll have those two outside hold you down and show you just how much fun I can have with that baton."

The threat didn't scare Jim too much; he had Brackett pegged as someone who'd talk a good game but know the lines he couldn't cross -- and that was one of them. From what Jim had heard, Banks wasn't the kind of warden who'd tolerate serious abuse from a guard if it was brought to his notice, no matter how sunk in apathy he was.

But Sandburg shuddered, the stink of fear pouring off him, thin and sour, buying the threat as genuine, which told Jim more than he wanted to know about King's games. Jim gentled his grip on Sandburg's leg and rubbed his hand over it reassuringly. No need for Blair to be scared now.

Then he reached up, peeled Brackett's hand out of his hair, and slammed Brackett's hand back against the wall, pinning it there.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Brackett snarled and let go of Blair's hair. Jim caught Blair's eye, relying on his powers of observation to fill in the gaps and show him what he had to do.

Because Brackett's dick had jerked and swelled as soon as Jim's hand had circled his wrist, and his breath had caught with excitement, not anger. He'd been right; Brackett wanted something he couldn't ask for, and while normally, Jim would have let him go without, in this case it would benefit him, and more importantly, Blair, to let Brackett have it.

They just couldn't talk about it afterwards, or Brackett would move the lines.

Blair, after one startled glance at Jim, and a flickering look up at Brackett, got it. He captured Brackett's other hand and, with considerably less force than Jim had used, pushed it back until they had Brackett pinioned, his hands at his sides, his legs spread, his dick drooling, jerking.

Jim wondered if Brackett could come just from this; from being held, controlled, vulnerable and open. Maybe. They had to play this just right, though; Brackett might get off on submitting, but he had too much invested in his position at the top of the heap to ever admit that openly.

Don't ask, don't tell, and Jim wouldn't and he'd make sure that Blair didn't either. This could work, but God, they had to be so fucking careful… spook Brackett and fear would spark a backlash.

It occurred to Jim that Bair did this juggling all the time with King and he relaxed a little, even as he leaned in and very deliberately bit Brackett's thigh, hard enough to sting but not mark. He got a shiver and a choked moan from Brackett and did it again, higher, nudging Brackett's shirt out of the way and sucking hard, not at Brackett's dick, which could wait, but the point of Brackett's hip. Blair was following his lead, using his mouth to tease and punish, Brackett's dick bobbing plaintively between them.

No words, though they would have been useful; Jim was willing to bet that he could have talked Brackett into coming with the same flat snap to his voice that he'd used on soldiers in his command, but they couldn't talk.

The illusion that Brackett was still in control had to stay in place. Jim licked a wet line across Brackett's stomach, tasting sweat and the tang of precome, smeared on the skin when Brackett's zipper had been up and his hardening dick had been pressed back, trapped. Blair wouldn't have been able to see that faint skim of fluid; might not even have tasted it, but Jim could. He was too close to his last sensory overload to feel safe opening up this much, but he had to make this good for Brackett. He needed the man feeling grateful and safe; that wasn't easy.

His vision wavered, expanding until the dark hairs smattered over Brackett's stomach looked coarse, not silky, each strand magnified. Sweat broke out on his forehead and he bit down hard on his lip in an attempt to jolt out of it. Then Blair's hand slid under his where it lay on Blair's leg, palm upward, and Jim's world steadied and settled.

Time to make this work. He stroked his thumb across Blair's hand in a silent thank you and then moved to put a kiss on the inside of Brackett's wrist, licking around the cuff of his own hand as if it didn't belong to him, squeezing his fingers tightly until Brackett whimpered, a soft cry of appeal spilling out.

Blair answered it, not with the open-mouthed sucking Brackett probably craved, but a series of fast, hard laps of his tongue, contemptuous flicks, striking at Brackett's dick the way Brackett's baton had struck Jim. Head, shaft, balls… and Brackett was stifling his whimpers now, his head back, his eyes closed.

Jim brought their joined hands up, lacing his fingers with Blair's, and rubbed his knuckles behind Brackett's balls, digging them into the sensitive skin just enough to feel good, just enough to hurt, gauging the pressure needed by Brackett's reaction.

And then he took Brackett in deep, as deeply as he could, and let Brackett fuck his mouth, and regain control. When the first spurts of come flooded his mouth, he drew Brackett's hand back to tangle in his hair (it didn't happen, you never let us do it) and trusted that Blair would do the same.

By the time Brackett had finished, had pulled out with a condescending pat on Jim's face with a hand that was shaking slightly, had neatened his clothing, they were both kneeling in front of him, their hands behind their backs, eyes lowered.

Order restored.

"Well, that was --" Brackett's voice cracked and wavered.

Jim made sure that he sounded casually respectful. Let Brackett recover just a little first. "Yes, sir."

He stood in a smooth movement, Blair rising to his feet a beat later. Brackett licked his lips. "Back off."

"Yes, sir," Jim said and moved back an inch or two. "Sandburg, go back to painting."

"What?"

"You heard me."

With a muttered growl, Blair turned away and moved far enough across the room that Brackett could pretend he was out of earshot.

"This ends here," Jim said. "You get me? I won't talk and neither will he."

"Talk about what?"

Jim didn't bother to answer that. "But I want something. It's the only thing I'll ask for, but you deliver and I'll give you what you want any time you want it." He hated making that promise, tying himself to Brackett that way, but it would be worth it.

Brackett didn't speak, but he raised his eyebrows inquiringly and, regaining his composure, stepped aside so that Jim had to turn to maintain eye contact.

"I want Sandburg in my cell. Move Turner to D Block; he's got friends there. Let King have a cell to himself until he finds a replacement; Sandburg's mine."

"That's impossible --" Brackett began, but before he could finish, Sandburg was back, his face flushed with anger.

"What the fuck are you trying to do? Share with you? Are you insane? No!"

"He's got a point," Brackett said. For a moment, they were just three men, equals if never friends. "King won't let him go."

"Yes, he will," Jim said. "I just need to make a phone call and then you have to let King talk to his brother before lights out."

"One thing," Brackett reminded him sourly.

Jim grinned at him. His ribs ached and he could feel bruises blossoming darkly on his shins. His mouth had lost the sweetness of Blair's taste to the earthy reek of come and his head was aching.

He didn't care.

He wasn't alone any more.

"One thing -- with sub-clauses."

"I'm not moving," Blair said.

"You don't have a choice, sweetheart," Jim said and made it enough of a threat that Brackett's face heated, his eyes widening, as if Jim had been talking to him.

***

Blair dumped his few belongings onto the floor by the bottom bunk and gave Ellison a blank stare, looking straight through him.

"You going to keep sulking for long?" Ellison inquired, lying on the top bunk and looking indecently relaxed.

"For the rest of my life," Blair said. He started to make up his bunk with quick, irritable movements.

"You're still thinking that's measured in hours? Look, King gave you to me; he's probably already picking out another sweet young thing to take your place. He's not going to risk --"

"Risk what?" Blair demanded. "He's a murderer; what's one more victim? Where's the risk? He's already in prison for life. And no one will care if I die. It won't even go on his record, because he'll do it when no one's looking, when there's no one to see --"

"You know I'd care, hell, I'd fall to pieces, but since it's not going to happen, forgive me if I don't get worked up over the prospect." Ellison sat up, his legs dangling over the side. He'd stripped down to a T-shirt and shorts and his feet were bare, the fragile skin across the top of them looking supple and soft. Blair saw the purple bruises mottling Ellison's shins and felt a pang of sympathy that faded as Ellison continued. "You're not special to him; just another punk. When I called in the favor his brother owed me, King didn't look pleased, no, but he didn't look broken-hearted either, sorry to break it to you, buddy."

"You make it sound as if I want him to miss me."

"I'm starting to wonder."

"Fuck you."

Ellison smiled good-naturedly. "You want to do that, babe, go for it. I'm all yours, remember? And that most definitely includes sex."

"Go fuck yourself, then," Blair said, his temper frayed to breaking point.

"Want to watch me try?" Ellison placed his hand on his groin, cupping his balls, and raised his eyebrows.

"Fine," Blair said coldly. "Have it your way. I'm safe, you're a Sentinel, and we're destined to be together. Got it. And when I'm bleeding out from a shiv in my ribs, it's going to be comforting to know how upset you'll be."

Ellison considered that for a moment and then lay down again, tucking his hands behind his head. "I think I prefer you sulking."

"Why are you so -- happy?" Blair demanded after struggling to keep his resolve to maintain a dignified silence. "You're making jokes, you've got this smile on your face -- You've called in the one favor you had, you've signed up to service that sadistic fuck of a guard, and you've pissed off King -- yes, you have. He's pretending to be okay with this, and you handled it so he didn't lose face, but he knows he was forced to let go of me and he’ll hate that." Blair took a deep breath. "And can I just point something out?"

"Sure."

"When I decided to let King fuck me, it was my choice. Mine. I'm not property and you don't get to decide I'm yours. With King kicking me out, I had no -- I had to come in here, but I'm asking to be reassigned tomorrow."

"No, you're not." Ellison rolled to his side and met Blair's eyes, all humor -- and happiness -- gone. "I can protect you better if we're together, and there's no fucking way you're sleeping anywhere but next to me. I can pretty this up and we can pretend we're free agents, but we're not. I'll go nuts if I have to hear you get fucked by someone else again, no matter how willing you are, and if you're honest you'll admit the same goes for you. It's really bugging you thinking of me on my knees for Brackett, isn't it?"

Blair set aside his anger long enough to consider that honestly. "Yeah," he said reluctantly. "Like an itch I can't scratch. But that's not -- that's just because he's an asshole."

"No, it's because you know I belong to you and you don't like sharing any more than I do." Ellison shrugged. "Maybe he won't ask again. It's risky for him."

"You should have just played it the way he expected," Blair said. "But, no, you had to get all creative and rock his fucking world."

"It got him where we needed him so that we could get you in here."

"Where I don't want to be. Where I don't feel --" Blair hesitated.

"You can't say it, can you? Because you know it wouldn't be true. You're safe with me, Chief. I want you, but I won't force you. I don't think I could if I tried. It just doesn't work that way. With Incacha…" He broke off. "Lights out soon. Get settled and get some sleep; you're still beat up from last night."

"That’s the first thing you've said I agree with."

"I could rub you down, work out some of the aches." Ellison said it casually, but there was enough hope behind the words to make Blair suspicious, no matter how tempting it sounded.

"Forget it."

"Whatever you say, Chief."

Okay, that had been just too easy.

***

Blair was woken from a restless sleep in the middle of the night, not by King's bubbling, snorting snores, but Ellison above him, muttering in a foreign language. He rolled his eyes. It'd taken him hours to get to sleep, his nerves shot, his body aching, and now Ellison had woken him up.

He took a moment to savor a cell without King in it and then rolled over. He could sleep through snores; he'd learn to sleep through meaningless mutterings. The only problem was that he could understand some of what Ellison was saying. 'Incacha' was repeated a lot and Blair, whose studies of Quechua in preparation for his trip had taught him a few basic words, could easily pick out 'no' and 'please' and 'don't die'.

Fuck. Ellison was deep in a flashback and if he woke disorientated, it could turn out badly, and if he woke people up, well, the guards would come. Blair didn't want that to happen. They wouldn't be in the mood to listen to just how much of this wasn't his fault.

He got out of bed and stood up. No moon, but there was a floodlight outside in the courtyard, casting some light through the high, narrow slit of barred window. Ellison's forehead was furrowed, and there were traces of tears on his cheeks. Blair rested his head against the blanket, level with Ellison's chest, and sighed. Tears. From a guy who'd killed men without blinking and survived a couple of years in a jungle. Incacha must have been really something.

He didn't hear Ellison move, but the murmur of words cut off and a hand slid over his head, stroking his hair with clumsy gentleness, as if the action was one Ellison hadn't performed for a while.

"Hey," Blair said quietly.

"Incacha," Ellison said with profound relief and added something, speaking too rapidly for Blair to get more than the gist of it, which was that Ellison was really, really glad to see him.

Oh, fuck.

"No, it's me, Sandburg. Sorry."

"'Cacha," Ellison insisted, his hand finding the nape of Blair's neck and doing something involving dragging his nails over it lightly in all the right places that set a chain reaction of goose bumps and shivers racing through Blair.

"You have to wake up, Ellison," Blair hissed. His nipples were hard and he was tingling all over, which wasn't unpleasant, but his face was also getting pushed into the blanket and he'd been there, done that, thank you. He twisted his head to one side so that he could breathe and found himself staring into Ellison's eyes, open, but unfocused. "Seriously. Wake up."

Ellison used his hold on Blair's neck to tug him closer and Blair stumbled and sidestepped, caught off balance. He knew where this was going, oh, he knew --

The warm touch of Ellison's mouth was still a shock. If earlier, Ellison had been tasting, now he was kissing, and Blair, shivering in the cool air, his hand on Ellison's broad chest to brace himself, found it hard to move away. There was that hand on his neck… and Ellison's other hand stroking his face -- God, so tentative a touch, as if Ellison thought he was dreaming, and couldn't quite believe -- and he was dreaming, of a man long dead and an endless jungle.

Somewhere between the moment that he parted his lips and turned the kiss into more of an invitation than a greeting, and the sweep of his tongue across Ellison's, Blair lost the edge of his anger. The man was an arrogant, controlling asshole, yeah, and possibly -- probably -- delusional, but right now he was just hurting and reaching out and Blair discovered that he hadn't gotten cold enough to turn away, walk on the other side.

He sighed forgiveness into Ellison's mouth with the next kiss and felt Ellison's arms go around him and cling.

"S'okay," Blair mumbled between kisses. "I'm not him, but I'm all you've got, right? And you need to wake up, Enquiri, wake up and go to sleep for real --"

Enquiri? Where the hell had that come from? Blair pulled away from that enticing warm mouth and swallowed hard. Freaky in the middle of the night was extra freaky. Ellison -- Jim -- closed his eyes and let Blair go with an instant compliance that was another layer of strange, and Blair was left shivering by the side of the bunks, his cock half-hard and his mouth kissed soft.

***

The next day passed as all the days did; monotonous but busy, designed, Jim guessed, to leave the prisoners physically tired and mentally numb. He felt sick with boredom and the pointlessness of it all grated on him. He was a Sentinel, and if he found a tribe of sorts within these walls to protect now that he had Blair to help him, it would still be a tribe of criminals and that went against the grain somehow, even with his own guilt making that reaction on the hypocritical side.

King was a glowering, sullen presence, never far away; Sandburg a nervy, twitching bundle of resentment with shadows brushed thickly under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept well. Jim felt rested enough, but he knew he'd dreamed of Incacha; his mind was in a smoke-green jungle, not a prison, and he saw the flash of Incacha's smile out of the corner of his eye half a dozen times, turning to meet only a flat, unfriendly stare from a stranger.

It was Saturday, and in the afternoon the prisoners were allowed free time, the irony of which wasn't lost on Jim. He stuck close to Blair, trailing him from the yard to the small library and then back to their cell, where Blair flung himself down on his bunk with a weary sigh.

"Take a nap, if you want, Chief," Jim offered. "I'll --"

"Watch over me?" Blair shook his head. "Thanks, but I can take care of myself."

"Then why did you come in here? Safer to stay where it's crowded and the guards can see you."

"Yeah, like they were so much use all the times King was whaling on me."

"You let him do that," Jim pointed out. "Part of the deal."

"I didn't know just how --" Blair bit back the words, but he'd said enough. Jim nodded slowly.

"You thought he just wanted sex."

"Yeah." Blair hunched his shoulder. "And, hey, me, too, you know, even if he wasn't exactly my type. I've never gone without for months and I thought… well, that it would work for me, too."

Jim sat on the edge of Blair's bunk. It was a sunny day and most people were outside; the hallway was quiet enough that it would be easy for him to pick up anyone approaching who posed a threat. He could relax, just for a short while.

"I didn't have you down as gay."

Blair smiled, looking younger for a moment. "I was brought up to be, uh, open to all possibilities, you know? So I tried men and I tried women and I just… I had fun where I found it."

"Not so much fun in here," Jim said.

The cheerful leer on Blair's face went away. "Yeah. Honestly? I could care less if I ever have sex again."

"So where did that come from? Because you seemed pretty interested yesterday."

"No, I wasn't!"

Jim tapped the side of his nose. "I could smell you."

"That is just the most -- really?" Blair seemed fascinated, even if he had screwed up his face. "You're kidding, right?"

"Most people can tell when someone's turned on," Jim said. "I'm not the only one with a nose and eyes; I can just tell sooner and I'm accurate."

"Must make picking up chicks in bars a breeze."

"I wouldn't know. I haven't -- not since Incacha." It wasn't easy to share that, not even with Blair. Jim felt his face heat. "It's not that I can't, it's just -- I know how good it can be and with anyone else, it'd be -- it wouldn't be anything special."

"What about with me?" Blair asked warily.

Jim stared up at the ceiling and smiled.

"Oh, fuck. You -- this is kind of sick you know. You're putting all this pressure on me and --"

"It would be just as good for you," Jim said. "I can make anyone feel the way Brackett did without even trying, but when it's you, with everything you'd be giving me -- God, Blair, there were times with Incacha that I came so hard it scared me."

"I don't want to know." Surprised, Jim turned his head. Blair looked at him and repeated, "I don't want to know, okay? Unless you want me to tell you about the time me and my buddy Mike hooked up with this girl with a thing for getting spanked by both of us and then watching us get each other off, while she --"

"You're making that up," Jim said flatly.

"Yeah, but until you figured that out, it pissed you off, right?"

"You know it did."

"Possessive asshole."

"Guilty as charged." Jim shifted position, turning sideways so that his leg was against Blair's. "Sorry."

"No, you're not." Blair pressed his lips together hard enough that they turned white. "God, why did you have to come here? Why did you have to come here now?"

"Let me think about that one," Jim said, allowing some sarcasm to bleed through. "Maybe because you're here? When is it going to sink into that thick skull of yours that I will find you? That you'll find me? That if we walked away from each other, we'd discover that we were walking in a circle? You don't like that idea and I get that, I do, but you've got to stop fighting it, because it's not an enemy, it's more like -- like gravity. It just is." In a quieter voice, he added, "I do get it, Chief. I had this fight with Incacha, only I had your lines and I didn't give in for months. We don't have that much time. I'm new, so I don't have any pull here -- none, now that I've alienated King, and, yeah, I know I did -- and you're not exactly Mr. Popular." He eyed Blair. "Or maybe you're too much in demand. All that spells trouble, and much though I'd like to, I can't be around 24/7 and I'm not Superman."

"I didn't ask you to look after me. I didn't ask you to rescue me," Blair spat out, propped up on one elbow, his face hard-edged with anger. He lashed out with his foot. "And get the fuck off my bed."

It hadn’t even occurred to Jim that he should have asked to sit on it. Anyone else, sure -- except he wouldn't have asked, because you just didn't cross a line like that; invade someone's territory. He stood reluctantly and leaned against the top bunk -- his -- and raised his eyebrows. "Better?"

"Better with you out in the corridor." The petulance of the retort hung in the air and Blair looked, for a moment, as if he wished he could unsay the words. Jim waited, silent. Let Blair talk; Jim had said enough.

"What made you give in?" Blair asked, sounding subdued. "Not that I'm going to, but I'm curious."

"I don't mind telling you, but it involves Incacha, so if you're going to start bitching about that..."

"You can say his name, just spare me the letter to Playboy crap."

Jim allowed his satisfaction to show on his face. "Guess there's more than one possessive asshole in the room."

"Just because I don't get off on secondhand sex doesn't mean I'm jealous of a dead man." Blair sat up and drew his legs up into a complex fold that looked painful. "But if he got you to change your mind about something, I'm full of admiration for the guy."

Jim looked pointedly at Blair's bunk. "So can I sit down now, or do you want to mark your territory some more?"

"Since you're making my neck ache looking up at you, you might as well."

Grudging permission, but he'd take it. "I fought it every step of the way," Jim began abruptly. "I let Incacha train me, because my senses were all over the fucking place, but the rest of it… no way. Part of it was because he was a guy, but not all of it. He wasn't my first." Jim grimaced. "I'd woken up with a hangover next to a man whose name I didn't know a couple of times. It wasn't a habit, just a -- sometimes, it was what I needed. But what Incacha wanted was out in the open, with someone I knew, and there was the whole partners for life thing… I didn't want anything to do with that."

"I'm sure sometime this week I'll find out what changed."

Jim glanced at Blair. "Impatient and mouthy. Guess you do trust me, because with King, I'm thinking smarting off like that would've ended badly." Ignoring the face Blair pulled, he continued. "I didn't believe the destiny shtick. Then I found out what happened the day before my chopper crashed in the jungle."

"The suspense is killing me."

"He was supposed to get married that day. Planned for years." Jim met Blair's questioning look calmly. "He had a vision and called it off. Told her his Sentinel was coming and his duty to the tribe meant he had to devote his life to me. And he did, for the little time he had left before he was killed, and I wonder sometimes if he knew that was coming, too."

"Wow, that had to suck for her." Blair fell silent, frowning. "Visions? I don't get them. And you can forget about the devotion bit; do I look like a fucking spaniel to you?"

"With that hair, more like a sheepdog," Jim said blandly.

Blair took hold of a handful and tugged at it, giving it a jaundiced look. "King made me grow it. Maybe I'll chop it off before he deals with me. No, forget it; he sees me do that and he will kill me."

"If you say that again, I'll save him the trouble," Jim said. "Forget the death wish, and if you want to look less like a walking mop, get me some scissors and I'll make it happen."

"You don't like it?" Blair studied a lock of his hair for a moment with less animosity. "You liked it last night."

Sweat prickled over Jim's skin. "What?"

"Forget it."

"Not a chance. Last night, we barely spoke, so whatever happened --"

"Was after you'd gone to sleep, yeah." Blair sighed. "You were talking in your sleep -- Quechan, not English -- and when I tried to make you stop, because it was seriously annoying, you…grabbed me. Stroked my hair. And you kissed me." Blair shrugged. "I didn't stop you, but don't read more into it than you should; I was half-asleep myself."

"I kissed you?"

Blair ran his tongue over his lips and Jim shuddered, sure he felt the fleeting touch on his own mouth. "Yeah."

"That was all I did, though, right?" If he'd forced Blair into more, Jim was fairly certain he'd have woken up with more bruises, but maybe Blair had gone along with it out of habit? He hated the thought that he'd forced Blair as much as he resented the idea that something had happened between them that he couldn't remember.

"Yeah, don't sweat it." Blair waved an airy hand. "Little tongue, some spit-swapping…not a big deal." He stared directly at Jim. "Just one question."

"Yeah?"

"Who's Enquiri?"

Startled, Jim fell back on silence as the safest reply. His Chopec name on Blair's lips stirred up a memory of the night before. Fuck, he'd called Blair 'Incacha'… He sighed and tapped his chest. "Me. It's the name the tribe gave me. Why? Did I say it in my sleep?"

"Not you; me." Blair took a deep breath. "I don't know where it came from, but when I used it, you just…settled down."

"That's pretty out there, Chief," Jim objected. "I must have said it and you picked it up."

"You didn't." Blair's mouth set in a mutinous line. "Why would you say your own name?"

"Well, there's no way --" Jim broke off. "Why am I suddenly the one who needs convincing that we're connected?" he asked wryly. "Never mind. You know my other name. Don't know how, not sure why, but you do."

"Mmm." Blair leaned forward and poked Jim in the shoulder. "Two things. One, you ever even hint that I'm possessed by your ex -- oh, you know you're thinking it -- and I'll take you down. Two, you call me by his name when you're hard again, and yeah, you were, and I'll rip your balls off with my fucking teeth, okay?"

Jim started to laugh; he just couldn't help it. "In a non-possessive way, though, right?" he managed to say before Blair's fist connected with his mouth. They were too close for it to really hurt, and Blair hadn't tried to make it count, but he shut up anyway.

No need to rub it in, and he didn't need Blair to admit it, not really. It was enough that they both knew where they stood.


***

"Ellison." King's voice was a flat sneer over the hiss of water from the showers. "Enjoying my leftovers?"

Blair had known this confrontation was coming; King had given them three days, keeping his distance, but the hatred in his eyes was a blaze that showed no signs of dying down. More worryingly, King hadn't replaced Blair, remaining alone in his cell. Blair had assumed that King would be parading someone young and pretty around -- Henderson, maybe, china-doll fragile, desperate as Blair had once been -- but it hadn't happened.

It didn't make sense. King couldn't take Blair back without admitting that it mattered to him that he'd lost Blair in the first place. The fiction that he'd gotten bored with Blair and passed him over to Jim as a sign of friendship just wasn't working as a cover story as it was, not with the hostility King was showing Jim. Everyone knew that Ellison had applied pressure and King had caved.

For the first time in years, King's power base was showing signs of crumbling. Jim had no power, no allies, no pull -- but Blair saw how people acted around him. They knew what he was subconsciously, and they responded to that. It was fascinating, and Blair would have loved to explore that reaction, but he was too busy watching his back and, if reluctantly, Jim's.

He'd expected Jim to have made a move, but it hadn't happened. They slept in their own beds, and Jim hadn't woken him again. Jim touched him, sure, casual, inevitable contacts in the confines of their cell, their arms brushing, shoulders bumping, but that had been all, until tonight.

They'd been about to leave their cell to shower when Jim had placed his hand on Blair's arm, halting him. Before Blair could do more than open his mouth to protest, Jim had smoothed his palm over Blair's face, light touches as Blair had caught his breath, bewildered, beginning to be aroused -- then a kiss, hard enough to leave his mouth stinging and wet from the lick that had ended it as Jim had tasted him.

Jim had stepped back, his face unreadable. "Sorry."

He hadn't sounded as if he meant it.

"A Sentinel thing, right?" It came out sounding curious, when Blair had been aiming for dryly sarcastic, but he still hadn't gotten an answer.

And now he was naked, his skin wet, his hands empty of anything that he could use as a weapon, and Jim was about to die. Lucky Jim. It would all be over for him real soon; King would want to make it last, make it hurt, but he wouldn't be able to drag it out for long. No guards around, no, of course there weren't, but in fifteen minutes the lights would flicker and five minutes after that, the guards would come in and clear everyone out. King couldn't leave too many marks; it had to be something the authorities could accept as an accident because Jim was high-profile enough after his time in court for his death to cause ripples.

Blair would get to live, for a while, anyway. Long enough to be broken, long enough to be made to pay for King's humiliation.

He closed his eyes and felt the soft skim of Jim's fingers over his lips and throat -- and found that he was whispering, "Enquiri" under his breath.

The harsh rasp of King's voice jolted him out of his panicked freeze.

"I said --"

"I heard you," Jim said calmly. He stood, outwardly relaxed, untroubled by his nudity. King had a towel wrapped around his waist and another around his neck; they were getting damp in the spray from the showers, but King could always get a dry one from someone else. "I just don't plan on discussing this with you."

Blair winced as King's face darkened. King wasn't used to people who argued with him or refused to do as they were told.

"Are we done here?" Jim asked.

King shook his head, less in reply and more like a bull preparing to charge. He was flanked by two of his men, pure, brute muscle, but next to King, they looked like wallpaper, paper dolls. "Done? I say when we're done, punk."

"What's your problem?" Jim smiled thinly. "I asked you for him; you gave him to me; I said thanks. Was I supposed to send you flowers or something?"

"Fuck you."

Jim moved, putting himself between Blair and King. "He's mine, now," he said quietly, clearly. "Find yourself another ass to spank, another mouth to fuck bloody."

"You think he's yours because I let you play with him a few days to get Chris off my back?" King laughed, a vicious bark that rasped over Blair's shredded nerves. "Don't fool yourself. I had him. I used him. I trained him. He's mine, and that's a fact." King pursed his lips, sleek satisfaction spreading over his face as if just saying it was enough to make it true. "And it seems to me that we're fighting over a bone and not letting it have its say." He craned his neck. "Why don't you step out here and give us your opinion, Sandburg. Tell the man who you really belong to. Use that pretty mouth of yours to talk for once."

Blair couldn't move, but he didn't have to; Jim did it for him, walking forward and getting into King's face. "You think he's yours? Think he obeyed you out of respect? You beat him and he gave you what you wanted to make it easy on himself. That's not control." Blair couldn't see Jim's face, but he heard the contempt sizzle through his voice, hot and bright. "Look at him now; do you see a bruise on him that wasn't left over from you? I haven't lifted my hand to him, but he's still mine."

King spat on the ground. "Prove it."

So much for the idea that he was going to get a say in this. Blair rolled his eyes, anger dousing his fear. The two of them were having so much fucking fun, weren't they? If he could, he'd have walked out, just left them to it. Let them fight and kill each other; no loss.

Except Jim's hands were shaking and Blair didn't think it was because Jim was scared for himself. The stupid son of a bitch was trying to protect him and something told Blair that Jim didn't have much choice about it; it was hardwired into him.

Just as the drive to shield and support a Sentinel was part of Blair. Fuck. He gave Jim's ass one last, regretful look -- I guess I'll never find out if you would've let me fuck you -- and walked between them.

"Remember me? The bone?" Blair wet his lips. "Honestly? I don't want either of you. You're both controlling assholes in your own way and I don't get a choice with either of you." The pain in Jim's eyes hurt to see, but Blair knew that he could make it go away later, always assuming they survived this. There were people around, witnesses, which, Blair realized almost too late, gave him his weapon.

"But if I had to choose between you, I'd choose Ellison," he said. "And he hasn't made me say that, before you ask."

King's mouth pinched tight. "I'm gonna enjoy reminding you where you belong, bitch."

"Maybe, but after that how much fun are you going to have with me?" Blair said. Beside him, Jim was tensed up, ready to start something. Blair didn't dare touch him, but he was screaming at Jim in his head to back off and let him handle this, and crazy though it sounded, he thought that Jim was listening -- and straining at the leash. "I'll be no good to you when you've finished, and let's face it, you were getting bored of me or you'd never have passed me on to Ellison; we both know that." He put a quaver in his voice, and hoped that King would think it was hurt feelings. "You owed Ellison a favor and you wanted to dump me; it all worked out perfectly for you, just like always."

"You gonna start begging for me to take you back now?" King asked. "Forget it. You're right about one thing; I was going to get rid of you real soon. I just don't like having something of mine taken off me before I'm good and ready to trash it." His mouth split in something Blair didn't want to call a smile. "I was looking forward to that part."

Blair forced his mind away from what getting trashed would involve. A final session with no need to keep his toy in one piece would be -- would be -- Jim turned his head slightly and Blair willed his racing pulse to slow, because Jim's eyes looked passionless, empty of humanity, and Blair was doing that to him with the strength of his fear. He'd wanted power over someone, but not like this, not like this…

"Hey, come on, man. We had some good times, didn't we? There's no need to --" Blair swallowed, his mouth dry. No use appealing for mercy; it made more sense to remind King that killing people had consequences. In an ideal world, anyway. "There's no need to do anything that could get you into serious trouble. I get that you want to make sure I'm going to someone who'll treat me the way I deserve, the way that you did."

"Like the cocksucking little slut you are, you mean?" King jerked his head. "Somehow, I don't think he's got the balls for that, baby."

Jim made a sound too much like a growl for Blair's liking. He could feel the rage pouring off Jim now, waves of it, blood-hot. Time to push.

"You asked Ellison to prove he owns me the way you did. If he does, will you let him keep me?" He heard the annoyed hiss Jim made at his choice of words, but he didn't care. Placating King was necessary and this, humble words spoken, this was nothing. Let King think he'd won; give him the chance to strut off feeling strong. It was the only way this could end with even a chance of the two of them surviving.

King glanced around at the audience he had and Blair looked with him. Men who'd stood by and let King brutalize him; men who'd tormented him for months. King thought they were his allies, but they weren't. They were bored into apathy and they'd follow anyone who had the charisma to stand out, just a little.

Right now, Blair was offering them something entertaining and having Jim standing there like a fucking statue, that truly impressive body on display, didn't hurt, either. The man looked good, looked classy; he made King seem like the piece of shit he really was.

Blair knew that the audience wanted King to agree and Blair knew that King had picked up on that too.

After a long moment, King nodded, magnanimous, gracious. "What the fuck. I'll let him try, what with him being Chris' blue-eyed boy and all. But if he doesn't convince me that he can handle you, he's dead meat and your ass is mine until I say otherwise."

Saying thank you would have stuck in his throat, so Blair settled for a nod before turning to look at Jim. Fuck. Blair wasn't sure what had pushed Jim over the edge, but the scariest person in the room wasn't King anymore and Jim's anger seemed to be directed, not at King, but at Blair. Then Jim's hand clamped around his arm and Blair let himself get dragged back to the wall of showers.

He turned his head to face the tiled wall behind them and said in the barest whisper of a voice, one only Jim could hear, "Come up with something good and I'll back you all the way. I trust you, man."

Did he? He supposed he did. It wasn't as if he had much choice.

He turned back and Jim's fist struck his cheek and rocked his head back, hard.

"His ass, hell, every fucking inch of him, is mine," Jim said in a voice so thick with rage that King's bodyguards took a step back before remembering their jobs and crowding closer to their boss.

"You want proof? Want to see how well he obeys me?" Jim continued, his open palm cupping the flesh he'd struck. Blair tasted blood, salt and hot, from where his tooth had cut his cheek and had to swallow. He couldn't let King see blood and he wished he wasn't certain that Jim could smell it.

"Would be nice," King said. "All I'm seeing right now is that you can hit him and he'll stand there and let you. That just tells me he's a coward or he gets off on it; it don't tell me squat about you."

Jim's shoulders heaved as he took some deep, shuddering breaths and then, with an abruptness that left Blair shivering, he calmed down and let his hand drop away.

"You want to know about me? I killed a kid because it was easier than disarming him and I don't have a whole lot of guilt over that. I've killed a lot of people. I don't have a better side, I don't have a death wish. I want Sandburg for my own reasons, and I'm not interested in going head to head with you over anything else you do. I want to do my time and walk away."

He snapped his fingers and pointed at the floor. "On your knees, Sandburg."

Blair hesitated, not because he cared about what he guessed was coming next, but because blowing Jim in public wasn't going to be enough. And it would leave both of them vulnerable. One flint-eyed look from Jim converted doubt to a smooth slide down, the floor hard and cool against his knees. He'd been here before so many fucking times.

Jim grabbed a handful of Blair's hair and Blair went with it as Jim tilted his head back, doing his best to minimize the pain, small though it was. It all added up, and he could only take so much. Jim wasn't hard but as Blair watched, his eyes watering because Jim was keeping his grip tight, that changed, Jim's hand busy, until his cock was stiff, balls hanging heavy.

Someone whistled and a ripple of nervous laughter went around the room. Jim grinned, teeth showing, and picked out the man who'd whistled. "You want some of this, Saunders? Huh? Want to bend over for me to rip you open?"

Saunders had the sense to stay quiet and Jim's grin faded. "How about you, puppy? Want a taste?"

As cues went, it was an easy one to follow. Blair nodded, despite the increase in the throbbing pain at his scalp, and said, "Please," in a loud enough voice to be heard over the masking hiss of the shower still pouring water down. They were running out of time…

"I bet you do, but if you want a treat, you've got to do a trick."

The tip of Jim's cock was beaded with precome, clear against the deep red skin. It wasn't helping that even under these circumstances, Blair was getting turned on, his stomach tight with a lust he couldn't push away. It was partly a response to Jim's arousal, an echo of it, and partly, much though he hated to admit it, a trained reaction. On his knees, in pain, a thick, swollen dick about to plunge down his throat? Better get hard, Blair, better show that you're willing, because that's what sluts do…

He blinked up at Jim in a resentful silence and Jim ran his thumb through the sticky mess painting his cockhead shiny and held it just out of reach. "Lick it clean, puppy."

Blair leaned forward to do just that and cried out as Jim's hand yanked sharply at his hair. "I can't reach."

"Stick your tongue out."

Why that was more humiliating than sucking Jim's thumb, Blair didn't know, but it was. He extended his tongue, straining to reach, and managed to flick the tip of his tongue against Jim's thumb. The taste did something to him; jacked him up, steadied him down. He went from interested to rock-hard in the space of two quick, rushed breaths and out of the corner of his eye saw Jim's cock jerk as if it'd been touched.

God, sex with Jim probably was going to be as good as the arrogant bastard had said it would be…

Lust made everything easier, as it always did. Blair whined, the sound lost in the murmur of voices, but, he guessed, audible to Jim, and tried to get another taste. Jim's grip on his hair slackened just enough to allow it and Blair knelt, sucking the tip of Jim's thumb with an avidity he didn't bother to hide.

"You want the real thing, you have to show me what an obedient little puppy you are," Jim said softly and tugged his thumb out, wiping it across Blair's flushed cheek, leaving a streak of dampness that felt like a cool kiss. "Can you do that? Or do you need to be taught your lessons again?"

"No!" Blair swallowed hard. "I'm good. I mean, I'll be good -- I'll do anything you say. Please."

The lines were blurring. How much of what he was saying was sincere and how much an act? He'd assured himself smugly that he'd meant none of it and that had kept him sane, but it was so easy to do this -- shouldn't it be difficult? Shouldn't he have to think about what to say, instead of having it pour out of him like blood from a wound?

"Please," he whispered. "Let me show you how good I can be."

Jim's empty hand clenched white-knuckle hard and Blair flinched, expecting a blow, but it didn't come. Instead, the hand in his hair turned his head so that he was looking across the room at King, whose face was twisted with desire and hate.

"Go to him," Jim said. "Beg to be allowed to suck him."

King's gaze went to Jim's face, his eyes wide and startled. "What the fuck?"

Blair felt the room gray out around him. Go to King? Feel that thick, sour-tasting hardness fill his mouth and bruise his throat again? No. No, he wouldn't do it, he couldn't do it --

He realized he was saying that under his breath, locked into a despairing, disbelieving mantra. It made no fucking sense for him to be freaking out like this; he'd sucked King many dozens of times, often in public. It was just one more time, and then it would be over, and he'd be safe…but he couldn't do it when it was Jim ordering him to; it was too much of a rejection, too bitter a betrayal.

"Hear that, King?" Jim said, and, unforgivably, sounded amused. "He doesn't want to do it. He's about to throw up or pass out, he's so shit-scared of the idea. I can hear his heart hammering from here."

Careful, Blair thought, and hated himself for the instinctive warning that rose to his lips. Let Ellison expose himself as a freak; why the hell should he care?

"But he's still going to do it, aren't you, puppy?" Jim released Blair's hair and petted the sore place on his scalp with cruelly gentle pats. "Good puppies always do what their masters tell them, and I'm telling you to crawl over to that big, bad man over there, wiggling your pretty little tail, and see if he wants your mouth on him. He might say yes, he might say no; I don't give a rat's ass either way. That's not important." One final pat, Jim's fingers soothing away the sting they'd inflicted, and then Jim stepped away. "Just ask the man nicely, puppy. Off you go."

He couldn't look up into that mocking, smiling face. Couldn't look at the sneering men around him. Head down, fighting to find the numbness that had always sustained him, Blair stared at the cracked, stained tiles as he made his way across them. One was chipped; it caught at his palm, and then his knee, and he felt his control splinter. He'd never been so fucking angry in his life. It was the kind of anger that made you feel you could take down Godzilla, withstand a hail of bullets -- or chew a man's dick off and spit it out.

Yeah. Look at that; he had a plan.

Except it wasn't King's dick he wanted to savage.

He arrived at King's feet and it was so fucking easy when he was there. He nuzzled them, rubbing his hair across them, making the whining, whimpering noises he knew King loved to hear.

He didn't think that Jim would get off on them, though.

King chuckled and kicked him away with a contemptuous shove of his foot. Blair smiled up at him through his eyelashes -- Hi, Daddy -- and crawled back to press an adoring kiss on the foot that had kicked him.

Really, this whole self-abasement thing was a breeze. You found your groove and you followed it. Foot, ankle, calf… kiss, lick, slobber.

The lights flickered and King grunted with annoyance and murmured something to one of his men, who left. Through the beat of blood in his ears, Blair didn't catch it, but he guessed the guards were being told to hold back. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't, but even the discussion would take time and it was quiet in here, no screaming, so probably they would.

"Let me suck you? Please?" He looked up at King and shaped a single word silently, watching King's face flush with heat and longing. Look at that; the big lunk was missing him. How sweet was that?

The towel around King's waist dropped to the floor, a splash of grayish-white. "Kneel on that, baby," King said and shot Jim a triumphant glance: See? I'm kind to him. And watch him obey me even in something this small.

Jim didn't say anything and Blair wasn't entirely sure which of them he would've obeyed if Jim had told him not to use the towel, so maybe it was just as well. He spread the towel flat and felt it steal a little of the ache from his knees.

"Now remind me of what you can do with your mouth, baby."

Baby. Puppy. Chief. When this was over, Blair was going to dream up some pet names of his own and use them at every fucking opportunity. He was so sick of answering to them. Blair Sandburg. That was his name. Just that.

He licked at the base of King's shaft and let his tongue swirl and curl, up and around. He couldn't taste Jim now. Couldn't see him, couldn't hear him, couldn't smell him.

But the skin on his back and ass felt blistered as if he was kneeling with his back to a fire, burning hotly. He didn't need to look to know that Jim was burning up, hating this even more than Blair was. Hurting over it, because Blair was his and Sentinels didn't share.

Suck it up, Jimmy. Just suck it fucking up, because this was your bright idea, man. And when it's over, so are we, because I'm done with this bullshit --

How much of that Jim had picked up, he didn't know, but it didn't matter; Blair was more than willing to spell it out, write it out, scream it out until Jim got it through his skull.

Over. Done.

He sucked with purposeful clumsiness, eager, but new to all this, needing his Daddy to teach him, to show him, a guiding hand, a hoarse-voiced instruction…a gold star waiting for a good boy. He didn't get them; King was being carefully discreet, but they knew each other too well for it not to be implicit, understood, that the choke Blair gave after a thrust went too deep was deliberate, that the pleading sniffle that followed was planned.

My monster. My creation. Does that make me God or just Doctor Frankenstein?

He was supposed to be showing that he belonged to Jim, and he guessed that on the surface, he was. This humiliation would be enough for King to accept as proof that Jim was as big a fucking sadist as he was, so it was all good, all according to plan. King saw his baby giving him one last blow job; the audience saw a brutal, kinky floorshow they'd beat off to afterward in their bunks. No one left in the showers was the sort to protest what was going on; these were King's men, and standing behind some of them were their own fuck-toys, silent, scared.

But Jim, standing alone at the back of the room, what did he see?

Blair thought he knew. Jim saw betrayal in every bob of Blair's head as he took King in deep, every ecstatic groan King gave. Jim had to know that Blair was still hard; close to coming, in fact, and when Blair did, the climax hooked out of him by King's permission, which Blair knew damn well he'd get, it would break Jim.

Sentinels were fragile fucking flowers, weren't they? No wonder they were an endangered species.

Blair ran his hands imploringly over King's meaty, muscled thighs and sobbed around the swelling shaft in his mouth. That should do it.

He swallowed acrid, thick come in neat, perfectly timed gulps, and sat back, his eyes lowered, the head of his cock poking up between his legs, shiny and wet at the tip.

"Well, wasn't that nice," King said with throaty satisfaction. "Since you've been such a good boy, I guess I'll let you come, baby. Go on; get yourself dirty --"

"No." Blair heard footsteps and then the shower behind him was turned off, the silence that followed achingly empty. "He doesn't get to come."

"Is that right." King's foot nudged Blair's thigh. "Hear that, baby? Ellison says that you can't come, and look at you; you're about ready to burst, aren't you? And I want to see it, so you just go ahead and spill for me. Make some noise, too."

God help him, he wanted to. He had a head full of memories of lying across King's lap, strong arms cradling him, the sheer bliss of emptying his aching balls putting a smile on his face as he writhed and arched and panted out his gratitude. He wanted that moment of release now, that fleeting instant when nothing else mattered but getting the demands of his body met for once.

Jim snapped his fingers once and whistled. "Here, Trixie." There wasn't a trace of uncertainty or anger in his voice but it was spiced with that same infuriating tinge of amusement; an adult being kind and playing a game with the children.

Knowing Jim's calm was faked, as much of a performance as any Blair had staged, didn't help. Blair's needs veered away from an orgasm to the overriding desire to kill Jim Ellison with his bare hands. Slowly. While he begged for mercy.

He was starting to wonder if he really did want to swap King for Ellison.

***

God help him get through this without a body count that included Sandburg. The stupid little fucker was about to ruin everything just to get his kicks and if he came, King would keep him, claim him, and Jim would have to kill King.

The man was lucky to be still breathing as it was and Jim wasn't sure how much more he could take.

King's hands on Blair, his dick sliding wetly in and out of the mouth that had been warm against Jim's in their cell…

The snap of his fingers sounded like bones breaking and he saw Blair's head jerk up. Blair's emotions were chaotic; physically and mentally, his stress levels were through the roof, and Jim wasn't sure how much of that was coming from Blair and how much was his own response to what was going on. In a few months time, if he stubbed his toe, Blair would wince, but right now what they had was too new and untested for that connection to be something Jim could rely on.

He was doubting Blair; he'd never doubted Incacha, not once. Of course, he'd never pushed Incacha to the point where the shaman had wanted to gut him with a dull knife, which seemed to be the place Blair was at right now.

Willing himself to stay where he was, out of reach of King, he stared at Blair, meeting the molten glare with a bland indifference. He hadn't known it would be like this. No one had ever challenged him for Incacha. Sure, he'd killed the murdering asshole of a soldier who'd shot Incacha, but that was a reasonable response; feeling homicidal when King had done no more than stand there and let Blair's mouth work him on Jim's own command was less so.

Tempting, though.

He couldn't snap his fingers again. Couldn't add a single word to his order. All that he could do was wait for Blair to make up his mind.

Powerless. God, how he hated that feeling.

Blair sighed, his shoulders slumped, resigned to his fate, and stood. He turned his head and gave King a look that from where Jim was standing held some pity, and then walked over to stand beside Jim.

Well, thank fuck for that.

"You wait that long to obey an order again and I'll break one of your fingers," Jim said quietly.

Blair snorted, clearly not buying the threat. Jim wasn't sure how he felt about that dismissal of his ability to follow through. "Is that your way of saying thank you? Asshole. And we need to talk, Ellison."

The crowd was drifting away, those not already dressed going to hurriedly pull on their clothing, as those who were dressed filed out of the door. King stood alone, having dismissed his guards with a jerk of his head, his eyes narrowed, his gaze fixed on Blair.

"Later, Chief," Jim said absently as the last person left. Just the three of them now. With Blair beside him, his control was returning. He didn't want to kill King with the same burning intensity. Just wanted to scrub Blair clean and make him brush his teeth at least twice. He couldn't relax, though, not with King standing there, immobile, silent. This wasn't over.

As he thought that, some instinct made him shove Blair to the side, ignoring his startled yelp of protest as he fell to the floor. No; not instinct. King's heartbeat had quickened with excitement. The knife that appeared in King's hands, passed to him by someone as they left, was a threatening glitter, but Jim just smiled. A weapon with King's prints on it. Perfect. He could kill him safely now and claim self-defense.

He moved to meet the first wild rush and kicked the knife out of King's hand without thinking about it. King was tough and fast, but he relied too much on his reputation and he was untrained.

Jim had been taught to kill as a job and a duty; King did it for fun. Amateur.

"Going to kill you," King snarled. "Gut you like a fish."

Jim didn't reply. Talking could distract an opponent, but the time spent thinking up quips could be better spent looking for weaknesses. The knife skidded across the floor and Blair scrambled to get it.

"Leave it!" Jim snapped. "We need his prints on it."

King frowned as if sensing the trap, and opened his mouth. A yell for help would follow, Jim guessed, and then the guards would pour in. No. No fucking way. Moving through a world that had slowed down, giving him all the time he needed, he pivoted, lashed out another kick, this time to King's knee, and as King staggered, Jim got behind him.

The towel around King's neck was easily flipped, grasped, tightened…

"You're going to die," Jim said into King's ear, ignoring the struggles, the blows King tried to make count when the angle was all wrong. With no oxygen reaching King's lungs, even if they'd landed they wouldn't have hurt. "Want to know why?" King made an inarticulate gurgle that probably wasn't a yes, but Jim took it as one. "Because you touched him. I sent him to you, and all you had to do was turn him down and we'd have been good."

"Suh-suh--"

"Are you trying to say "sorry"?" Jim tightened the towel around King's neck. "I don't think I care."

"Jim." Blair was in front of them, his face pale, his hands clutched into fists at his side. "Jim, you have to stop this."

"He'll keep trying to hurt you," Jim said, reasonably enough he thought, but Blair shook his head.

"No, he won't. He's scared of you, Jim. He won't. Let him talk and he'll tell you, won't you, King?"

Jim shrugged and loosened the stranglehold a little. King sucked in a whooping breath, his face scarlet, sweating. "Won't -- won't hurt him. Please --"

"I don't believe you." Jim smiled cheerfully and started to choke the life out of King again. It felt good. Every cry of pain he'd had to listen to Blair make, every sick gasped out "Daddy"… This was payback.

"No." Blair's face swam in front of Jim as if he was the one dying, vision graying to emptiness. "Listen to me. I'm going to get out of here before you. Three, four years earlier."

The thought of spending those years without Blair made something inside Jim turn to ice, but he had the solution in his hands, literally, so he didn't allow himself to shiver. "So?"

"I'll wait for my Sentinel," Blair said quietly. "I won't wait for a killer."

"You won't have to wait," Jim said. "I'll explain it all --"

"Kill him and I walk away."

"Blair --"

"Let him go, Enquiri."

Incacha's voice, Incacha's patient stubbornness laced through Blair's own. Jim snarled with frustration, unable to hold out against both of them, and shoved King away from him, the towel falling with King, who collapsed, strings cut, on his belly.

"Happy now?"

"I am." Banks walked past Jim and stood staring down at King, his face impassive. "You wouldn't believe what the paperwork's like when a prisoner dies."

He hadn't heard Banks come in. Jim registered that with a dull shock of guilt. He couldn't afford to get sloppy like that; not in here.

King gasped, his hand groping for the knife that lay a foot away from his outstretched fingers. "Gonna kill you --"

The words were garbled, forced past a swollen throat, but Jim understood them and he tensed, ready to finish what he'd started, witnesses or no witnesses, but Banks held up his hand in a clear warning. King's fingers curled around the handle of the knife and he tried to push himself up. Jim grudgingly gave him credit for not giving in, but not much. Sometimes, the best course was to accept a temporary defeat and wait to fight again.

"No," Banks said softly and ground the heel of his shoe brutally hard against King's wrist. "Let it go, King."

Jim heard the thin bones break, snap-crackle-pop, but over the anguished sound that emerged from King's bruised throat, a stifled, mangled attempt to scream, he doubted that Blair or Banks had.

"I didn't come here to break up this fight," Banks continued, his weight still pressing down on King's wrist. "I was going to see you in your cell, King. I've got some news for you. Bad news. Guess there's no way to break it gently, so I'll give it to you straight. Your brother's dead."

King's body jerked once and his free hand hammered the floor. "No!"

"What?" Blair stepped forward. "How?"

Banks' gaze flickered over Blair dispassionately enough that Jim didn't feel threatened. "Evidence came to light that was enough to have him arrested. Word leaked and he made a run for it, planning to fly somewhere he couldn't be extradited from. Stupid of him. He was cornered, shot an officer -- wounded him -- and his partner put a bullet through King's head."

Jim couldn't take it in. Chris King dead? Then even if he'd killed Carl, it wouldn't have mattered, it wouldn't have helped --

"I can't do anything to my brother. He's family." Chris tapped the table in front of Jim. "But he's no relation to you. Do you see where I'm going with this?"

"You want me to trim a rotten branch off your family tree."

"In such a way that it looks, well…"

"Like storm damage, not an axe."

"Exactly." Chris smiled approvingly. "You know, imprisoning a man like you for six years is a travesty. Some time served for appearances sake, yes, but I think I could pull some strings and get that time reduced considerably."


Banks stepped back and King started to sob, choked, inhuman sounds that made Blair's face twist with pity and turned Jim's stomach.

"You've got nothing, now, have you," Banks murmured, almost to himself. "Money, influence, power… It's all gone in a heartbeat." His head whipped around, his expression hardening. "You two… all three of you. Listen up and listen good. This ends here, you got that? No payback, no retaliation -- no blood."

"Yes, sir," Jim said into the waiting silence when Banks had finished speaking. He meant it ironically, but found that at some point he'd come to attention, the respect Basic had drilled into him surfacing, dug out of him by the authority in Banks' voice.

"I'm good," Blair said after a moment.

Banks studied him. "So I hear," he said dryly. "Go and get dressed, both of you, and get back to your cell. Leave King to me."

Cell. Banks wasn't going to split them up. Jim looked down at the floor until he could be sure his face wasn't showing the relief he felt and then looked up to meet Banks' eyes. They weren't friendly, but they weren't hostile, either.

Good enough.

***

When they were back in their cell, locked in by a scowling, silent guard, Jim began undressing, getting ready for bed, his movements methodical and controlled, almost in slow motion as if it was the only way he could keep his hands from shaking. Blair started to shiver, Jim's control robbing him of his own, teeth-chattering shudders that racked his body. Jim tossed his T-shirt aside and came close at once, his expression concerned, his arms reaching out to encircle him, hug him, but Blair warded him off with a snarl. "Don't fucking touch me!"

Jim held up his hands and stepped back, his face impassive now, his body tense. "Fine. No touching."

"Ever again," Blair said, biting the words out and trying not to bite his tongue at the same time. The air in the cell was sun-baked and stifling even this late at night, but he couldn't get warm.

Jim's skepticism about Blair's resolve came over loud and clear, but Blair ignored it, wrapping a blanket from his bed around him and pacing the cell as Jim gave him room.

"Why did you do it?" Blair asked eventually into the heavy, waiting silence. "Why did you do that to me?"

Jim ran his hand over his head and grimaced. "Look, we can talk if you like, but can you just -- can you let me hold you -- get the stink of him off you? Please? It's driving me crazy."

"What?" Blair gaped at him. "Everything that's just happened and you're getting pissy over the way I smell?"

The skin around Jim's mouth was white. "Yes. I'm not feeling very…stable right now and you're not helping." Blue eyes seared Blair, almost making him feel some heat. "You're supposed to help me, Chief."

"My name is Blair," Blair snapped. "Keep the pet names for when you're passing me around like a bottle of cheap booze."

Jim blinked, some of the tension visibly leaving him as his clenched jaw relaxed. "A nickname? That bugs you? You pick the strangest things to get mad about…"

Blair choked on hysterical laughter. "You think so? Want to know what's really gotten me mad?"

"No. I want to stop you shaking. I want to hold you. I want you naked and in my bed and I want to --"

"Fuck!" Blair whirled and slammed his palm against the cell wall, the impact jarring, the pain clean and his to own. "You want, your bed -- what about me? Huh? When do I get to have what I want? When do I get a say in where I sleep and who with?"

Jim materialized beside him and Blair let his hurt hand be taken, cradled against Jim's chest, because he'd gotten a glimpse of Jim's eyes and, yeah, the man was closer to the edge than Blair was, which was saying something.

"I stopped myself from killing a man I despise because you asked me to let him live," Jim said softly. "You had a say then. Now, it's my turn. I'm not going to force you to do anything, but I need your help here and if you want me on my knees begging for it --"

Nice picture -- in a nightmare world. Blair had once seen Sentinels as special; golden men, larger than life. They didn't kneel and beg; they protected people. Meeting one had taken the shine off his idealized picture and dirtied it up some, but if he were honest, he'd admit that his first thoughts hadn't been all that realistic. "Would you?"

"For you?" Jim nodded slowly. "Yeah. I would. I might have limits when it comes to what I'd do to keep you, but I don't know where they lie and I don't really want to find out. Put it this way; I'd endure everything you went through with King -- more -- just to stay close to you, yeah, even if it was you dishing it out, and never regret it, not once."

"I'd never ask you to do that," Blair whispered, his voice stripped of strength. Jim meant it, every word. Blair wasn't sure how he knew that, but he did. "I couldn't be like that with you. With anyone."

"I know," Jim murmured back, the quiet words creating a safe, private place for the two of them. He raised Blair's hand to his lips and kissed it, an unhurried, tender kiss that hurt more than hitting the wall had, because Blair couldn't block out kindness the way he had blocked out King's abuse. "This is good. This helps. Thank you."

"I swore you'd never touch me again," Blair said. Jim smiled and kissed Blair's wrist, just where the blood beat against the thin skin. "I wanted to kill you. Geld you."

Jim sucked in air and shook his head, still smiling. "Believe me, you'd have more fun with me intact."

Anger was slipping away from Blair like a dream at daybreak. "Are we ever going to have arguments that I can win?" he asked plaintively.

"You can win them all," Jim said. "I'll teach you every weakness I have."

"Right," Blair said, mirroring Jim's earlier skepticism. "Somehow I doubt that."

"I've got things to tell you,." Jim said. "We've got a lot to talk about -- starting with the way you hesitated when I told you to get your ass over to me." The smile had disappeared now; Jim looked annoyed.

"Hey!" Blair yanked his hand free and poked Jim's chest. "How about the way you made me -- when you said I'd never have to -- the way you --" Tears choked him suddenly, salt and snot running down the back of his throat as he sniffed hard and fuck it, he was shaking again. "I crawled --"

"Come here." Jim's chest made a crappy pillow. Too hard and the tears ran off it, but it was warm and smelled comfortingly familiar, which made no sense as Blair hadn't had time to get used to Jim yet. "I had to watch you do it. I know."

"Going to thank me for that, too?"

"No. That was you working with me. It's what we're supposed to do."

Blair shifted his head an inch to the left and set his teeth around one of Jim's nipples, catching at it roughly and making Jim yelp. "Fuck that."

"Blair --" The warning in Jim's voice was tinged with desperation. "I'm not in control right now after that fight and seeing you -- Don't --"

The lights went out with an abruptness Blair had never gotten used to, plunging them -- no, just him, he supposed -- into a darkness that would lift within a few minutes when his eyes adjusted, as the prison was never completely dark.

Jim's nipple was hard to bite; too much muscle around it. Blair moved up, licking fiercely at Jim's throat and then kissing it, a sucking bite of a kiss any vampire would be proud of. Jim groaned something that might have been a protest but sounded a lot like 'please'.

"Killer," Blair said, planting the words into the spit-slippery skin with a flick of his tongue. "Right?"

"I'd kill for you."

"Hard man," Blair continued, his hand going down, a lewd, low chuckle making it clear just what he meant, even before his fingers sought out the stiff poke of Jim's cock and freed it from his shorts. The shorts ended up on the floor a moment later, and then Jim was naked and Blair was clothed, the blanket slipping from his shoulders to pool on the floor.

"Hard for you," Jim murmured back at him, the words husky, thick, a growl. His hands made restless passes over Blair's back and ass, petting Blair roughly with a hungry urgency, trying to get to skin. Yeah, he really was close to losing it, wasn't he? Blair didn't care and he wasn't scared. He'd come too close to dying tonight to care about anything less than death and pushing Jim like this was about the only weapon he had. He wanted to make Jim break and be there to pick up the pieces. He needed to see Jim lose it, lose it all. His emotions and thoughts were chaotic, confused, but things had to balance between them. Jim had made him crawl and suck and smile at a face Blair hated and Blair didn't give a fuck that it'd saved them both when it had come so close to destroying him.

"Sentinel," Blair said as his fingers tightened around solid, hot flesh.

Jim was silent now. Quivering, rock-hard, yes, but silent.

"My Sentinel," Blair said finally, experimentally, wondering -- and felt the warm gush of come flow up and spurt out a moment later, the smell of it pungent and familiar, arousing Blair to the point where he had to bite down hard on his lip to keep himself from following suit.

"God," Jim moaned, and swayed, held in place by Blair's hands, his own gripping Blair's shoulders painfully tight. "God, Blair --"

Instinct took over, erasing Blair's shock that Jim had climaxed that fast. He hadn't done anything; just touched him, just --

Claimed him.

Oh, fuck. Blair rested his head against Jim's shoulder and then pulled Jim closer, heedless of come-spattered hands and clothing. Jim clung to him with bone-cracking strength and nuzzled Blair's neck, muttering something that Blair didn't try to decipher because he knew what it meant, no matter what language Jim used.

Yours.

***

Jim breathed in the welcome scent of his come, simple, known, and the roil of emotions pouring off Blair, which were less easy to identify but a huge improvement on the sour, filthy reek King had left smeared over Blair. Blair's anger and upset weren't pleasant -- Jim experienced them as an itch, a nagging sense of wrongness -- but there was nothing about Blair that Jim couldn't tolerate, nothing that could make him feel distaste or revulsion. Blair was too close for that to be possible; part of Jim, his flaws, weaknesses, all accepted without thought.

It was a difficult truth to grasp; Incacha had been patient with Jim's inability to accept it for many weeks before rolling his eyes and telling Jim bluntly that as far as he was concerned, Jim's shit didn't stink and he could go without bathing for weeks and still be welcome in Incacha's bed.

That acceptance went deeper than the physical, of course, but it got the message across, and Jim had eventually stopped worrying that Incacha endured what they did together in bed rather than enjoyed it, or resented the upheaval of his life and, by extension, Jim. It just didn't work like that; they were one at levels that went beyond any partnership Jim had ever experienced or observed.

Losing Incacha had left him like a bombed building, his strength and purpose shattered until all that remained was a jumbled heap of bricks that had once meant something.

Finding Blair was a chance at rebirth; Jim had lost too much to ever become the man Incacha had known again, but he could still become something new, fill the empty loneliness inside him with something other than self-loathing and apathy.

He understood all of Blair's misgivings and doubts, all of his anger. He doubted that he could be as patient with Blair as Incacha had been with him, but he could try…

His climax had slammed into him like a fist and held as much pain as pleasure because it fell so short of what he remembered it could be, but it had done its job and washed away some of the red from his vision. Holding Blair helped even more because he was aroused and that was distracting him from the questions Jim frankly didn't have time for right then. He wanted to make Blair come and then sleep with him.

It didn't seem like much to ask.

He weighed what he guessed Blair would want against a handful of practicalities and shrugged mentally. No condoms, no lube. The second didn't matter -- it might tomorrow, but right then the discomfort was a small price to pay for having Blair inside him. The first…well, he knew he was clean and if King had been careful, Blair was, too.

"Fuck me?" he asked, the words spoken into the damp tickle of Blair's hair. "Or let me suck you?"

Blair's body jerked, stiffening in shock. Jim felt his confusion without really understanding it; it wasn't that complicated a proposition, after all.

"What?"

"You heard me." Jim worked his way through the tangle of hair to Blair's ear and bit at the lobe, using a lot less force than Blair had used chewing on his nipple. Not that Jim had minded; the one time, curious, he'd let a girlfriend put clamps on his nipples he'd gone wild, loving the sharp, concentrated savagery of the pain and the lingering throb. He'd never tried them again, though; he'd shipped out to Peru right after and though Incacha had been willing to try just about anything Jim could dream up, he wasn't into damaging his Sentinel just so said Sentinel could get his rocks off and Jim had respected that.

Something told Jim that Blair wouldn't have quite as many scruples.

"Oh, man, you really don't want me doing that," Blair told him, his voice strained. "It's been a while -- years -- and I've learned a lot of bad habits. I could hurt you."

"I don't think so." Jim mapped the size of Blair's erection with a casually appreciative sweep of his fingers. Nice. "Though I'll be aching tomorrow if you really go to town, but I can take it."

"Ever been fucked dry and hard?" Blair said sourly. "Trust me, it won't be just tomorrow it hurts."

"Then let me blow you," Jim said, striving for patience. He wanted to seal the deal and the more Blair talked, the less horny he smelled.

Blair stepped back, shrugging out of Jim's grasp. "I don't know what you're trying to prove --"

Patience exhausted, Jim shoved Blair up against the wall beside them and dropped to his knees, crowding close and getting his mouth over the swell of Blair's cock. He bit at it through Blair's jeans, the open-mouthed bite a mother cat uses on a kitten's neck, and tasted his own come soaked into the fabric.

Then he knelt back, his hands on the wall on either side of Blair and looked up.

"Get your dick out," he suggested, his tongue flicking over his lips to both catch the acrid tang left there and get Blair's imagination revved up.

"Man, you're pushy," Blair muttered, his hands already busy. "Fine. Blow me. But you bite me and you lose teeth."

Jim cupped the tightening pouch of Blair's balls and jiggled them. "Guess you grew a pair."

That got him Blair's hands in his hair, painfully tight, and a rammed-in mouthful of cock a moment later. He choked, eyes watering, throat convulsing, and Blair eased back. "You're not very good at this, are you?"

Jim swiped at his drooling mouth and glared up at him. "I've never had any complaints, but most people use a little more --"

"Finesse?" Blair suggested tiredly. "Sorry. I'm used to getting my mouth fucked and like I said; bad habits."

"You want to make me take what you did? Go ahead. Hurt me. Use me. Bruise me, mark me; I don't care. If it helps you, take it all out on me."

"Oh God, don't! Don't let me go there --" Blair let go of Jim's hair and tried to push past him, but Jim blocked the attempt, caging Blair with his arms.

"Or let me show you how good it can be between us," he said with all the persuasion he could muster. He stropped his cheek caressingly against the shaft of Blair's cock, a hum of arousal thrumming in his throat. "Driving me crazy here, babe." He didn't talk much during sex usually, but Blair was pulling the words out of him, a litany of longing. "Let me suck you," he said and knew that he was begging, the way a man dying of thirst would plead for a sip of water. "I can take you deep; I wasn't ready, that's all. Come as fast as I did or let me make this last; your choice. Come in my mouth, on my face, I don't give a fuck, just let me do this for you." He paused, his breathing labored, his chest tight with need. "Please," he said softly. "Please, Blair."

This time, the hand cupped his head and drew him forward slowly. He closed his eyes to hold back the sting of tears it would have killed him to shed and licked the glossed-over head of Blair's cock, savoring the intimacy as much as the taste.

He heard Blair exhale, a soft rush of air that Jim felt against his face like the memory of a touch, and then he turned his attention to making Blair come his fucking brains out.

He wasn't sure he succeeded but it was good enough that he got an exhausted Blair curled up beside him for a few hours that night, even if he woke to find himself sleeping alone, his arm curved over an empty space.

It was enough. It was a start.

***

King was gone within the week, transferred away, a cracked eggshell of a man, his eyes blank and dazed. Blair wasn't sure how he felt about that. As revenge went, it was unsatisfying; King had lost his power and influence in a single crowded hour -- as well as his brother and the use of his hand for several months -- but it hadn't made Blair feel better.

Jim methodically beating seven shades of shit out of the two men who tried to take over King's position and assumed Blair came with the job made him feel resentfully safer, though.

He wanted to take care of himself; to start over and this time do it right, but that just wasn't an option now.

Sentinels didn't share, Sentinels didn't let their backups defend themselves, and Sentinels, apparently, were happy to provide blow jobs on demand or let their bodies be used as a great place to rub off on without ever asking for anything in return.

Oh, Jim came; came every time, with a gasped out grunt of pleasure that made Blair's balls tighten with lust, but Blair never touched him; he didn't need to. All Jim needed was for Blair to be there, close, preferably naked, and horny.

Blair felt like a centerfold.

He could have ended it with a touch because he knew damn well that it wasn't the way Jim wanted it, but a residual stubbornness and the annoyance he felt over Jim's smothering protectiveness kept him from giving in the whole way.

He'd been forced to accept the connection between them -- he wasn't sure how or when -- or why -- but he had, and he let Jim suck him off because the guy really liked doing it and Blair…didn't hate it, but he was damned if he was going to step into a dead man's shoes and be the love of Ellison's life.

Two years, three, and he was gone. Until then, Jim would be useful and, yeah, an improvement on King, Blair would admit that.

A month of never being touched unless he permitted it, a month of his own bunk to sprawl out on -- and he knew Jim hated him leaving his bunk, but God, sleeping alone was heaven and if he sometimes woke and missed the solid heat of Jim's body, well…

He remembered that he had a library book to return and ten minutes to do it in and headed back for his cell, his ass unpatted in the corridor, no whispered insults following him. Oh, brave new world…

The cell door was pushed closed, which it shouldn’t have been at this time of day. His steps slowed, dread rising to crowd his throat with sickness. King had closed the door like that when he couldn't wait for the night, shut it in the face of the world with an unthinking arrogance.

He shook himself. He wasn't behind that door, naked, shivering, hurt; he was out here, and if Jim was fighting off an attack -- unlikely because there wasn't much dislike of him, overt or covert, even from King's former friends -- he was doing it in total silence which was even less likely.

It took him three hesitant steps toward the door to think of another possibility; Jim was behind that door getting his rocks off with one of the many men who'd offered to take Blair's place.

Jealousy and sheer, raw-red possessiveness gripped and shook him, left his ears ringing and his heart pounding unsteadily. He could still hear, with a small part of him, that detached voice that King had never silenced, note dispassionately that claiming went both ways and that if this was how Jim had felt that night in the showers, King was the luckiest man alive to still be breathing, but mostly he just thought, 'mine!' with a savage simplicity.

He was saved from humiliating himself completely with a dramatic entrance through the door, fists flying, by the door opening and Brackett sauntering out, a satisfied smile broadening when he saw Blair.

Brackett opened his mouth to say something predictable and then visibly reconsidered, turned on his heel and walked away, moving just a little too quickly. Blair stared at his retreating back, nodded to himself the way a man did, job done, the movement taking an eternity to complete, and then walked into his cell.

Jim was sitting on the lower bunk, rinsing his mouth from a bottle of water Brackett must have left behind -- it was Evian -- and spitting into a metal mug. Red spit, blood drooling from a cut lip, but that wasn't all that was clouding the water. He glanced at Blair, but didn't speak.

"How many times?" Blair asked, his voice a tinny echo of the scream in his head.

Jim shrugged. "Who's counting? When he wants it, I deliver and take the consequences if he thinks he's given up too much." His gaze was direct but there was no accusation in it, just a weary resignation. "This time, I was trying too hard to make him forget that he enjoyed both of us at once."

"Because you don't share." It came out like an accusation, a flung stone.

"Because you wouldn't like it," Jim corrected him.

"Stop being so fucking noble!" Blair stalked across the room and snatched the mug from Jim's hand, sending it flying across the room, liquid splattering the floor and wall, the clang of metal on stone jarringly loud. Jim placed the bottle on the floor before Blair could grab that, too, and stood up, anger replacing apathy .

"It's not noble, it's what I am, you fucking moron." Jim stabbed his fingers against his chest. "Sentinel. Sentinel. You were going to look for one and you don't have a clue, you don't have a fucking clue what we are and what we can do, you know that?"

"Yes, I do," Blair said, stung and remembering the hours he'd spent reading that fucking book, memorizing it in places. He'd slept with it some nights, dammit. "Your senses are enhanced --"

"Yeah, they're enhanced." Jim's mouth folded in a grim, set line and he nodded his head jerkily. "Do you know by how much? How far I can see, how much I can zoom in on something? I can count the fuzz on a bee's ass from the other side of a football field if it stays still long enough; I can hear the warden talking to his dead son in his sleep if I try, and I can smell Carter's rancid fucking socks from here, and he's in D wing."

Blair swallowed, guilt flooding him. God, Jim was right on this count, at least; he had a Sentinel to study, a willing subject, right here, not in Peru, but in his cell, and what had he done about it? Not a damn thing. Not a single note made, or a test planned. Parameters. Variables. Limits. He'd done nothing.

And Jim had been quietly servicing Brackett to keep him off Blair's back and waiting for Blair to snap out of one monumental sulk…

He wanted to do something to make up for his neglect of his dream and, yeah, his Sentinel, he supposed, but he couldn't think of anything that would come close to being enough. Jim made it all a thousand times worse by taking a bottle of lube out of his pocket and tossing it over. Blair caught it automatically. New, the seal unbroken.

"Got it from Brackett," Jim said. "Better than flowers. Now you can fuck me. I know you want to." His lips twisted. "Guess my blow jobs aren't as good as I thought they were, but maybe you'll like my ass better."

Blair narrowed his eyes. "Don't push it," he said. "I'm feeling guilty as hell here, but if the way I come whimpering isn't enough of a hint that you're good on your knees, then I don't know what is."

Jim grunted, clearly not pacified. "Took you long enough to admit you like it."

A strained silence fell with Jim's mouth -- beautiful, that mouth, clear-cut, generous -- looking close to pouting, except that was something else Sentinels didn't do.

Okay, this was going to take something more than an apology…and when in doubt, attack.

"And as for the Sentinel thing…" Blair said, as if Jim's rant had only just been spoken.

"Yeah?"

"Everyone can smell Carter's socks," Blair said dismissively -- and waited, hoping that Jim would get it, would see the expectancy in his eyes, would play along.

One beat, two, and then Jim grinned and reached out to ruffle Blair's hair forgivingly.

Asshole. Blair tucked the lube in his pocket, a small weight, promising, tempting.

"Maybe you can fuck me," he said without thinking.

"You won't kiss me, won't touch me, won't treat me like I'm human, but you'll bend over for me?" Jim patted Blair's cheek and walked toward the door. "Chief, you're one messed up man. No."

Blair pursed his lips. So that was what Jim wanted? Well…okay.

A kiss. He could do that.

He turned his head and found himself alone, but that didn't matter, did it? Jim could hear him.

Softly, barely breathing the words, he said, "I'll kiss you. I'll touch you. Tonight."

The last word echoed, as if Jim had said it back to him.

***

"Tell me," Jim panted, driving into Blair's ass at just the perfect angle, just the perfect speed.

Blair moaned, luxurious, wanton, and raked his nails down Jim's back. He'd already left teeth marks and bruises scattered over Jim's body, but it wasn't enough. He wanted Jim marked for days, something to look at, something to touch as he jerked off.

"I'll wait. I'll wait for you -- Jim, God, Jim, now, now, now."

"You're still talking," Jim said and nipped at Blair's ear. Blair wasn't the only one who was leaving marks tonight. Their last night. "I want you past that before I let you come."

"Fuck you." His body was a twisted, snarled up knot of lust only a climax would unravel. Hours of this… Freezing when the guards had walked by, keeping their voices down… Hours of Jim mapping his body with meticulous, desperate care, as if the years together had been wiped away and he was starting over -- "Please, Jim. Please --"

"Tell me."

Blair shook his head in frustration, not denial. "I'll wait, I’ll wait," he chanted breathlessly. "Jim -- believe me, okay?"

"I want to," Jim said, the words muffled against Blair's hair. "You don't know what it's going to be like tomorrow watching you walk out of here. Going where I can't see you, hear you, touch you --"

"Shush, just -- don't. And yeah, I do."

Jim thrust inside him again, the joy gone, and Blair slid his hands down to still the next mechanical rock forward. His arousal became a distraction and he ignored it the way he was ignoring the scratchy blanket under him and the telltale squeak of the bunk's springs every time they moved.

"Okay, stop that for now. I need you to tell me something."

"What?"

"If I don't wait -- if I walk away, never visit, never write, never call, hook up with the first guy I see that I like in someplace far away -- what would you do?"

He felt every muscle in Jim's body clench and rode out the pain of three brutally fast, deep strokes, delivered with every ounce of strength Jim had. "I'd --I'd --" Jim turned his head away and he shuddered. "I don't know. Survive. Wait to get released. Come after you."

"Kill me? Hurt me? Punish me?" Blair demanded.

Jim eased nearly all the way out of him and then sank back in slowly enough that Blair's answering moan was one of pleasure. He'd hurt tomorrow, hell, for days, but he didn't care.

"No."

"Tell me."

"Beg you. Crawl." Jim was gasping out the words, his hips moving slowly, his face contorted. "Blair -- What do you want me to say? You know what I'd do."

"Anything it took to keep me."

"Anything it took," Jim confirmed.

"That still scares me."

"You think I don't know that?" Jim mouthed at Blair's nipple, sucking at the reddened, swollen skin. "Fuck, it still scares me."

"You wouldn't let me have my life back? Give me space? Trust that you'd get sent a replacement for me?" Blair wasn't sure why he was doing this to them both, but he had to know.

"I lost Incacha and it hurt like hell. It took a piece of me. I lose you for good, and it'll kill me," Jim said. "I can't -- I don't want that to happen."

"Why will it?" Blair whispered. "Why do you need me that much?"

Jim reared up, his arms straight, taking his weight, and stared down at him. "Because you're my partner. My shaman."

Blair shook his head. Words. Truths, yes, but not the right ones. "I need more than that from you. I know, but tonight, I want to hear it. Humor me."

"Because I love you." The words were reluctant, almost shamed.

"You've never said that before." Neither had Blair, but he didn't need to. Jim knew.

Jim sighed and settled back down, his hand cradling Blair's face. "You've never been about to leave me before."

"I'm not going to leave you now," Blair said. "I'm not going to be here," he slapped the bed, " but I'm going to be in here, right?" He slid his hand between them, his palm against Jim's heart. "God, listen to me get mushy…but I've gotten used to being the one who says everything you're thinking and won't say."

"You think I'm the romantic one?" Jim chuckled quietly. "Me? Chief, you're nuts."

"Yeah, whatever." Blair settled himself more comfortably and slapped Jim's ass. "We were doing something, remember? Faster. Harder. More. Give me something to remember when I'm jerking off thinking about you."

"Two years." Jim's voice cracked, the rhythm of his strokes unvarying, still perfectly placed, but too gentle to scratch Blair's itch tonight. "God, two fucking years."

"Twenty months," Blair corrected him firmly. It would have been longer than two years, but he'd deliberately fucked up a parole hearing and closed the gap a little.

Only once. Jim had freaked when he'd found out, gratitude and guilt clashing. He hadn't spoken to Blair for two days, hadn't touched him…

In the end, the self-sacrificial glow reduced to sullen embers, Blair, exasperated, had waited until lockdown and then leaned against the wall, got his dick out, and started to jerk off in Jim's line of sight.

Jim had made it until bare seconds before spunk boiled up and over Blair's fist, falling to his knees in front of Blair and sucking him dry, keeping his mouth on Blair until Blair had been whimpering, squirming, hard again.

They'd worked out other ways to deal with their differences after that.

"I'll see you every chance I get," Blair said.

Jim's hand caressed Blair's hair, cropped short now, but still curling wildly. Blair had snipped off a lock of it and left it hidden in the cell for Jim to find. Maybe it would help. Maybe the spunk-soaked piece of cloth wrapped around it would, too. He was guessing here. When Jim was released, Blair would have found out so much more, be so much better at taking care of his Sentinel… "I know you will, Blair."

"I'll write letters. You'd better fucking answer them."

"I will. I promise."

"I'll call you. Talk to you."

"I'll be here."

Blair could feel tears on his face, warm and wet, and saw Jim breathe in the scent of them, adding one more memory to those he was locking away.

"Tell me, dammit."

Jim kissed him, sweet and soft as he began to fuck Blair again with a rising urgency. "You know."

"Tell me!"

"I'll wait for you, Blair."

"Tell me again," he begged, the words mumbled, jumbled, his legs wrapping around Jim, his heels digging into Jim's ass.

"I love you," Jim said, this time without hesitation. "I'll wait. You're worth waiting for."

Faster, harder, yes, just like that -- Blair sobbed, his voice lost, words forgotten as Jim slammed home and froze, his body convulsing, his head thrown back, starkly beautiful in the cool, pale moonlight flooding the cell, both of them locked together, bound together, one.



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